Farmers can play a lead role in helping Ireland meet its climate action targets by adapting best practices in land usage, agri-food sector leaders agreed at a recent ‘roundtable’ Q&A event in Dublin.
Hosted by cement firm Ecomem, the & session panel included Andrew Doyle, chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Harold Kingston, chairman of the IFA’s environment and rural affairs committee; Pat Murphy, head of environmental knowledge transfer at Teagasc; and Donal O’Riain, founder and managing director of Ecocem.
In terms of the improving efficiency in CO2 emissions, Mr Murphy said farmers can focus on enteric fermentation in the rumen, and their fertiliser options.
“Mitigation options focus around these areas,” he said.
“Anything that improves the output per animal belching or reduces the amount of methane produced is an improvement.
“Some examples are: improving the grazing season — grass is a better quality forage than silage and longer at grass reduces GHGs; lowering the age at first calving and improving the calving rate means we have fewer ‘idle cows’ producing GHGs relative to output.
“Slurry spread in good conditions in spring loses less of the nitrogen to the atmosphere that summer spreading and there are also less storage losses due to the shorter storage period; and better breeding (EBI) improves efficiency and reduces GHGs per unit of output.”
Mr Murphy described these initiatives as a ‘win- win’ for farmers in that they reduce emissions and increase farm profits.
Mr Kingston highlighted the IFA’s online resource ‘smartfarming.ie’, which offers practical advice on how to save money and reduce carbon emissions. “The Smart Farming initiative focuses on improving farm returns through better resource management.
“This initiative focuses on delivering the double dividend of improved returns for farmers, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions through extended grazing, better fertilisers management and other practices and has demonstrates average savings per farm of €5,000.”
Mr Doyle directed farmers toward reports issued by EU states linking good environmental practices with enhanced farm profits.
Mr O’Riain added that sustainable agriculture offers as many opportunities as it does challenges.
“Agriculture can make crucial contributions in many ways: the use of biomass as an energy crop, recycling of wastes, optimal use of chemicals, protection of water resources, and the wider protection of the rural environment and of biodiversity,” said Mr O’Riain.
“The prospects are varied and exciting, but add additional demands from farm management to final delivery of product to the consumer. Agriculture is already a sophisticated activity requiring professional management at all stages.”
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