Reducing herds to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets would have a significant impact on the rural economy, potentially wiping out billions of agricultural production and causing thousands of job losses.
Harsh predictions are contained in a report released yesterday by the Climate Advisory Council as it presented the government with crucial carbon budgets compatible with a 51% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030.
The Council stated that only relatively small reductions in agricultural GHG emissions can be achieved by only currently proven technical mitigation and that in all the scenarios analyzed, these alone are insufficient to leave agriculture in one of its areas. main carbon budget scenarios considered.
He said progressively larger reductions in agricultural GHG emissions require measures to reduce the agricultural activity of livestock. Its report detailed the results of the modeling of scenarios where significant reductions in the cattle herd are envisaged.
In scenarios, where agricultural GHGs are to reduce by 30% or more, the number of suckler cows increases from just over 1 million head in 2018 to 200,000 head by 2030. Although the reductions in the number of Modeled cattle contribute to reducing the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, the Council admits that they have impacts on the value of agricultural production and the income of the agricultural sector.
It also indicates that significant changes in the volume of agricultural beef production will have important implications for levels of economic activity and employment in the food processing sector and for the Irish economy as a whole.
In a scenario where a 20% reduction in emissions is required from agriculture, more than one billion euros could be wiped out of the sector’s production, with a potential of 6,000 to 13,000 job cuts, with up to 45,000 job losses when a 51% reduction is considered.
The Council said that accelerating technological development, leading to additional opportunities for emissions mitigation and increasing the rate of adoption of the technology, could help avoid the need for reduced levels of emissions. cattle farming activity.
IFA President Tim Cullinan said the country’s most productive farmers “simply cannot remain viable with the level of restrictions proposed and this will have profound implications for the rural economy.”
“Some may compare the targets to other sectors and think agriculture got a fair deal, but the government has failed to consider the implications for individual farmers and the sector.”
“It is also important to realize that increases in the cost of energy and transport fuel are already having an impact on the viability of farms and rural businesses,” he said.
“The frustration of farmers is that they know that if less food is produced in Ireland it will be produced elsewhere, with a higher carbon footprint.”
“The world’s population is growing and is expected to grow from 7.5 billion today to 10 billion by 2050. We will need more food, not less,” he said.
It is “questionable” that the number of dairy cows in the country can be maintained at the current level, said Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Pippa Hackett.
Speaking on RTE’s policy week last weekend, the Green Party minister also said there was “broad acceptance” that the dairy herd cannot continue to be enlarged.
We are looking to bring about a system change in agriculture. So we really have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels in all areas and in agriculture, that means weaning ourselves off from fossil fertilizers and mined minerals and we can do it, ”she said.
When asked if we could keep it at the size it is, the minister said: ‘that should be questionable because a dairy cow emits, you know, almost twice as much methane as a suckler cow. .
“So we know this absolutely needs to be looked at. And again, if we can enact system changes that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels in the industry, dairy and beyond.
“I’ve seen the research and Teagasc and others, and they’re looking at different types of using different types of herbs, which can reduce fertilizer use to zero, which is significant,” a- she declared.
Meanwhile, Junior Agriculture Minister Martin Heydon has denounced the “lazy narrative” that slaughtering the national herd is the only way to cut carbon emissions.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Heydon said a “stable” herd was needed and farmers had to be part of the solution to the climate crisis.
“I think there is a lazy narrative in some circles that just suggests that reducing the national herd will solve all the problems and that the farmers are the problem and we can get rid of the cows, that will solve all the problems,” did he declare. noted.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said methane from the national dairy herd would increase even if the number of animals remained static.
The agency found that enteric methane emissions, released from the intestines of animals during belching, have increased by nearly 20% per cow per year over the past 30 years.
A further increase of more than 6% per animal is expected by 2030 and an additional 5.6% by 2040.
“Efficiency as talked about with dairy cows means producing more milk per cow, but the cow produces more methane because it produces more milk,” said Stephen Treacy, senior manager of the EPA, at the Irish Independent.