Eco group The Environmental Pillar has called on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to set up a task force to integrate native trees onto farms.
The group, a coalition of 28 national environment NGOs, says the Government could use existing financial incentives, such as the Native Woodland Scheme, to ensure the initiative would not add any costs on to the farmer.
“Embracing native woodland solutions on farms will not take away from the traditional Irish farming model; in fact it will enhance it,” said Andrew St Ledger, spokesman for The Environmental Pillar.
Mr St Ledger said the planting could be targeted along rivers and streams to catch the nutrient run off, thus solving another big problem regarding farm sustainability. Other benefits would include biodiversity and water filtering.
The group’s comments follow former Concern CEO Tom Arnold’s call at the ICOS Sustainability Conference for the use of forestry on farms to mitigate the emissions from increasing cattle numbers.
Currently, Ireland’s dairy herd has the joint-lowest carbon footprint in the EU, while the beef herd is ranked at number five.
However, with beef and dairy both set to expand, the Environmental Protection Agency predicts farming will be responsible for 45% of the extra 6%-11% of carbon emissions Ireland is likely to produce by 2020, with only transport producing more carbon.
“Somebody is going to pay for this, and it’s time for us to be honest,” Mr Arnold said. “Agriculture is not going to get a free pass on this, even if Irish producers are among the most carbon efficient in the world.
“There may have to be a trade-off between the size of the national herd and the forestry sector in the medium to long-term future to allow Ireland to become more sustainable.
“Obviously trees consume carbon and cows emit it. At the moment, the balance between the two is off- kilter.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved