Ireland must exploit reputation for low-carbon farming, conference told

IRELAND’s reputation for low-carbon farming should be harnessed to ensure that the authorities governing global agriculture promote Irish food production while capping outputs from less efficient regions, business leaders heard at a Teagasc conference at Dublin’s Mansion House yesterday.

Attendees at the A Climate for Change – Opportunities for Carbon-Efficient Farming conference are gathering again today to agree on an approach to minimising the carbon footprint of Irish food, and to capitalise on the global demand for low-carbon food.

Experts at the conference noted that demand for food will continue to grow in tandem with the world’s expanding population. Yet, farmers must also cope with the challenge of reducing their GHG emissions while increasing food supply.

Teagasc director, Professor Gerry Boyle, said: “Any policy that reduces agricultural activity in countries with a high production/low carbon footprint, such as Ireland, in a time of increased demand for food and renewable energy sources, is likely to be counter-productive in the context of reducing global GHGs. It may result in a global increase in CO2 emissions via carbon leakage.”

The Teagasc director pointed out that emissions from Irish agriculture have fallen by 8% between 1990 and 2008. He argued that, rather than capping greenhouse gas emissions through limiting food production, Ireland should focus on minimising its emissions per kg of food or carbon footprint. He presented results of an FAO study, showing Ireland’s temperate grass-based dairy systems already have one of the smallest carbon-footprints in the world.

The 200 international scientists, policy makers, farm organisations, agricultural advisers and stakeholders also agreed Irish farming has everything to gain from promoting its reputation for eco-excellence. Central to any promotional drive will be a collaborative approach.

Dr Rogier Schulte, chair of Teagasc’s working group on greenhouse gas emissions, said: “We are working with our colleagues in the Government departments to get international recognition for our approach of improving efficiency, rather than capping food production.”

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) and Teagasc yesterday signed up to two international research pacts – the New Zealand-led Global Research Alliance (global GHG research); while DAFF and Teagasc also sit on the board of the EU’s Joint Programme Initiative (EU GHG research).

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