Teagasc rural economy division head Dr Kevin Hanrahan has poured cold water on the idea that organic farming is the solution for Irish farmers facing climate change challenges.

Speaking on last week’s Signpost seminar discussing solutions and challenges to climate change and the sustainability of farming, the lead economist with Teagasc said he wasn’t aware of any market research that showed an increasing demand for organic produce.

“Direct payments might be favourable for the farmer, but we need consumers to demand organic product and the big challenge is they have to pay more. I don’t see it as the solution, yet anyway, as I don’t see enough demand,” he said.

Supply chain

While organic farming is often cited as working in countries like Germany and Austria where the supply chain is short, and where the food is consumed locally, that is not comparable to Ireland, he maintained.

“I’m sure some farmers will be persuaded to transition to organics with more favourable direct payments, but, in the medium to longer term, we need consumers to be demanding that.

“Remember we have done a good job persuading our consumers in export countries that our products have high environmental credentials, and so then it’s a big challenge to persuade them to pay again, or more.”

Trees to displace food

Teagasc’s principal research officer Gary Lanigan conceded that agri output would be hit by new climate measures.

“Look at the two big pieces, afforestation and rewetting of these organic soils. If these measures displace agricultural land, that may result in an effect on agri output and probably more specifically on peat soils and drystock production.

“Rewetting will impact on stocking rates and probably increase indoor production, so farm costs will go up,” said Lanigan.

When questioned as to whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is able to factor in the investment farmers are making to improve soil fertility by reducing the greenhouse gas inventory attributed to farming, he said: “No, they are not, we need to gather data, activity data so farmers can get credit for it.”

On the most promising feed additive to reduce methane emissions the Director of Teagasc Frank O’Mara said: “Bovaer, the DSM product, is showing a 30% reduction in methane production per day, when administered throughout the day to ruminants.

“It is going through the licensing application process and that would probably be forthcoming in 12 to 18 months, but, is only suitable in an indoor feed system, so is limited enough for Irish farmers at the moment. The cost remains to be seen and whether it improves performance. If not then farmers may need an incentive to use it,” he added.