Strong progress is being made by farmers and the agri-food chain to achieve their climate action plan targets, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said during the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action on Wednesday 29 November.

The committee is undertaking its own review, following the publication of the Climate Change Advisory Council’s (CCAC) annual review during the summer.

Minister McConalogue outlined how the sector is playing a leadership role in delivering on the ambitious target which culminate in a whole-of-economy 51% reduction in emissions by 2030.

“We are seeing real and genuine momentum being generated by our sector. There is a huge appetite among farmers and primary producers to continue to play a leadership role in reducing emissions," Minister McConalogue said.

The Minister outlined the measures which have been put in place to support farmers on this journey which include:

  • CAP strategic plan with a budget of €9.8bn to support farmers to transition to more sustainable practices while also supporting family farm incomes.
  • A budget of €1.5bn for the new agri-environment scheme ACRES.
  • A five-fold increase in funding for organic farming to €256m to triple the area to 7.5% of utilised agricultural area.
  • €260m to improve the carbon efficiency of the suckler herd through genetic improvement.
  • €43m for a major genotyping programme for Irish cattle which was announced in May 2023, which will enhance the environmental sustainability, health and productivity of Irish beef and dairy herds.
  • 2022 emissions

    Minister McConalogue noted that emissions from the sector had reduced in 2022, which marked an important reversal of what had been a steady upwards trend since the lowest emissions were reported in 2011.

    The most significant driver for the decrease in emissions in 2022 was a decrease in use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser of 14%, which came following a similar decrease in 2021, the Minister explained.

    “It is critically important that we provide valuable information to farmers to inform decisions that promote the health of their soils. Nutrient management and soil health are central to achieving economic and environmental sustainability on farms.

    "I have allocated €8.8m to this programme, on top of this €2.5m for multi-species swards in 2024. I also have supported the sowing of clover grasses every year I have been Minister.

    "These supports will enable farmers to reduce chemical fertiliser inputs, an economic benefit to the farmer and an environmental benefit to society, while maintaining food production," he said.

    The role of science, research and innovation, and knowledge exchange was also discussed and the importance of such measures in supporting a range of actions for climate and environmental action, such as Teagasc’s marginal abatement cost curve (MACC) that sets out a viable pathway towards reaching the 25% sectoral emissions target set for the agriculture sector or the EU directives on nature restoration and soil health.

    Building blocks

    While the challenge facing all sectors of the economy in reducing emissions is significant, the Minister was clear that the agriculture sector is putting in place the building blocks to continue to deliver a downward trajectory over the coming years.

    “The link between climate policy and food is a key priority for COP28, which fits within a broader political context of seeing the role of food systems as a catalyst for achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

    "This is the first time in COP's history that the COP presidency has prioritised the link between climate and food. Given the wider political and economic context within which COP operates, I strongly support this priority and I look forward to participating in a range of discussions on these important topics next weekend," Minister McConalogue said.

    Internationally, he said, our approach to farming productively and environmentally is lauded.

    "We are a livestock producing country because we can produce livestock and dairy really efficiently and really well. Livestock systems are both impacting and impacted by climate change and the solutions and technologies being implemented in our grassland-based system in Ireland has learnings for the international community.

    “As a country we should be very proud of our agricultural heritage, how it has shaped our country and continues to do so now in the fight against climate change.

    "Farmers, their co-ops and the processing sector are taking real, tangible and effective action and currently there is simply not enough recognition for that," he said.