Michael Brady. Agricultural Consultant and managing director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents. The Lodge, Lee Road, Cork.
First Published in the Farming Independent 23rd November 2021
Agricultural Consultant and managing director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents. The Lodge, Lee Road, Cork.
Tel: 021- 45 45 120 email: email@example.com
The Climate debate has elevated to a new level.
COP26 in Glasgow has provided a global focus on the scale of the task at hand to keep global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degree Celsius. Closer to home the publication of sectoral targets for reductions in carbon emissions has placed renewed focus on agriculture.
Ireland aims to be Carbon Neutral by the end of 2050, but the more immediate target of a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, a mere 8 years away has brought farming sharply in focus.
Agriculture has been tasked with a slightly lower emissions reduction target of between 22% – 30% by 2030, but this is still a massive ask from farmers and the wider industry.
It is no exaggeration to say that the changes forecasted for farming between now and 2050 will be as momentous and industry changing as the period after we first joined the European Union in 1973 (then called the European Economic Community). It is the first time since that period that all sectors of agriculture face significant change or disruption.
So, what is the current mood of farmers in light of the recent announcements:
There are so many different targets, commitments and figures being published, frankly speaking farmers and their advisors are confused as to how to make sense of it all. There is a big challenge to simplify what is required and transform it on to actions and tasks that actually contribute to temperature reduction.
Farmers are genuinely concerned as to how these targets will affect their farming systems and the bottom line in their bank accounts when the targets become policy resulting in new laws, rules and regulations.
Also, farmers are cross, very cross in fact, about the way they are being portrayed by the media in the climate debate. Every interviewer questions farmers and their advisors as if they are climate deniers and resistant to change. In my experience farmers see themselves as the solution to the climate crisis and they are also waiting for the potential of a new stream of income from sequestering carbon.
So, what does reducing agricultural emissions by 22% – 30% by 2030 really mean to farmers and their business?
In the recently published IFJ/KPMG report on the effect of agricultural emissions reductions, the roll out of existing technology on farm can reduce agricultural emissions by 13%-18% by 20230. Effectively this the implementation on farm of the practices set out on the Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC Curve).
There are up to 40 actions a farmer can carry out to reduce emissions highlighted on the Teagasc MACC Curve. The main ones are; breeding more efficient dairy and sucker cows, finishing cattle earlier at 24 months v 27 months, better grassland, fertiliser and slurry management, feed additives, reducing crude protein in animal diets, draining wet mineral soils, straw incorporation and using bioenergy on farm.
Most progressive farmers are at various stages of implementing these processes, some early adaptors have already reduced their carbon footprint by up to 15% but others have yet to begin.
The new EU CAP 2023-2027 with be the catalyst to drive these measures by using a ‘carrot and stick’ approach.
The ‘stick’ being the new ECO Schemes attached to drawing your entitlements and the ‘carrot’ being the attraction (or not) of new agri-environment schemes.
However, if the uptake of existing technology on-farm will only bring agriculture to a 13%-18% reduction in emissions how are we going to get to 30% by 2030?
This raises the politically hot topic of a reduction in livestock numbers or what has become known as the ‘National Herd’. It is a wonderfully blunt instrument and an easy equation to show that livestock reduction equates to carbon emissions reduction.
The IFJ/KPMG report calculates that to achieve a 30% reduction in agricultural emissions by 2030 beef cattle numbers would have to fall by 22% and dairy numbers by 18%. It goes on to suggest that a 50% cut in emissions would require almost a 50% reduction in livestock numbers. This is a frightening thought.
Yes, 35% of Irelands emissions are from agriculture but 65% are non-agricultural sources. What will the ordinary citizen of the state do to reduce emissions? I suggest they may retrofit their houses and purchase an electric car, but that is the long and the short of it.
The farmer of course will also retrofit the farmhouse and change to an electric vehicle, they will also continue to implement the technology measures outlined above in the MACC Curve to further reduce emissions.
However, the farmer and only the farmer has the ability to create additional reductions in carbon emissions by planting trees and wetting bogs, a process known as ‘Additionality’. The scope in this as of yet untapped measure is critical to the success of reaching climate change targets in Ireland.
Farmer psychology for generations has been to fell forests and reclaim bogs to create fertile agricultural land which generates food for humanity and income for farm families. It also added value to their farms as fertile agricultural land has traditionally has been is worth more than forestry land and bogs.
There are lots of livestock farmers, both beef suckler and dairy farmers in the country who have no successors or are disillusioned with farming. Let’s provide them with a ‘carbon farming’ alternative that has less work, more money and adds value to their farm holdings.
In the American film ‘A Field of Dreams’ there is a famous line which say’s ‘Build it and they will come’, well the challenge is for the agri-food industry to build a system of farming which meets the needs of these farmers and climate change. I am confident ‘they will come’.
This is the ‘Silver Bullet’ for reduction in greenhouse gas-emissions in Ireland, not a blunt reduction in livestock numbers.