The Department of Agriculture gathered 500 scientists in the Aviva stadium in Dublin this week to update everyone on climate change policies and developments.
The intention was to explain where the gaps in the science are, and talk about some of the potential solutions to the climate challenge. To that end it was a great sounding board for what’s happening.
As a general summary, it is clear there is a lot of climate investment going on in farming, both at farm level and at industry and research level. Yes there is still plenty to do, but assuming high adoption of new tools by farmers, there is a way to reduce emissions.
Interestingly the Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture Brendan Gleeson suggested policy doesn’t always follow science. While accepting the complexity and other unintended implications of changing policy, I struggle to tally policy not following science.
Last week, we discussed the water catchment science in this column, and how farmers are changing what they do, and that a ‘one fix for all’ (ie reducing stocking rate from 250kg to 220kg) is not the way to go to solve a national water quality problem.
Professor Frank O’Mara, Director of Teagasc, talked about the importance of holding the nitrates derogation or else we risk making the situation worse environmentally and economically for farmers.
This week at the Aviva event, Teagasc’s Pat Dillon talked about a group of farmers that have reduced spreading artificial nitrogen by 100kg/ha. Farmers are getting no hop of the ball on any of these changes yet.
Tarring everyone with the one brush in an effort to improve water quality, ignoring the new science, is just not the way to go. Why shouldn’t policy follow the science?
Maynooth Professor Peter Thorne addressed those assembled in the Aviva early in the morning and in fairness, it was hard to argue with anything he said. One of his core points was that this climate change challenge is everyone’s business.
Human activities contribute 100%, and he said there is no doubt that there was a human fingerprint on the recent flooding in parts of Ireland. Weather is changing and getting warmer and wetter is part of that.
Of course we all know at a local level that there are building developments in places that previously were flood plains, and hence, some of the residential flooding is not unexpected.
However, come back to his core point that this is everyone’s business when very often the narrative, and we hear is that farming and livestock have a heavier burden to carry.
He rightly suggested this polarisation of farming is not helpful. The lazy narrative is to make it someone else’s problem, which is the wrong way to influence change.
He said there is a very real need to rebalance the national conversation and that transport, energy and all the other sectors that are far more heavy emitters of carbon dioxide need to change. His point was if you pin the source of the problem on the minority (eg farming and food producers), then the rest think they have a free pass when in fact they are heavier users of carbon dioxide.
On individual gases, he said net zero on methane is not critical. What is critical he said, is carbon dioxide, and reducing it is everyone’s problem.
We have continuously said that farmers are willing and are playing their part. They are investing in slurry management, better genetics, better feed etc and all this is benefitting the environment.
Capturing this in the national inventory so that the EPA can give farmers credit for these and other changes is the challenge in terms of timing.
The EPA boss Laura Burke suggests they are willing to take on the more modern measurements and science, but that peer reviewed science is necessary.
The fear is we will have lost a generation of the best food producers globally by talking down farming, when in fact we should be talking it up as a world leader in sustainability.