2016 data indicates that beef contributed 44% of the emissions; dairy – 56%, but by 2030 dairy will be two-thirds of the absolute emissions.

Ireland needs to come at the whole issue with a multi-dimensional approach; greenhouse gases (GHG) are a climate change issue, ammonia – the poor relation – is an air quality issue. Agriculture is responsible for one-third of GHG emissions – there cannot be any breaching of targets with regard to reduction in agriculture regarding 2030.

This is according to Prof. Gary Lanigan, principal research officer of GHGs with Teagasc, who spoke about what dairy farmers can do to reduce carbon emissions on their farms, during the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) ‘Dairy and Climate Change’ event in Dublin today, Wednesday, September 4.

Also speaking at the event was Philip O’Brien of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Dr. Cathal Buckley, Teagasc; Dr. Dario Fornara, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI); Dr. Ken Byrne, UL; Colm McCarthy, economist, UCD; and Dr. David Styles, NUIG.

Opportunities to reduce emissions

Meanwhile, Lanigan pointed to the Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC), which, he added, “provides opportunities to reduce emissions”.

He said that while “there are a lot of challenges out there” one of the many areas that Teagasc explored in an effort to address emissions in agriculture matters was to examine future activity in the sector.

With Food Harvest 2020 it was much more transparent in that there were production targets.

He continued: “However, because Food Wise was a value target we had to look at multiple scenarios and multiple projections.

“These are projections not predictions and based on an economic model project into the future levels of the dairy herd, the suckler herd and fertiliser use, etc.”

The Teagasc expert went on to say that it was necessary to establish a base-line so that MACC could function accordingly.

Increasing emissions

The point of the base-line, he added, “is so we can estimate where we probably will go”.

Within that then there are higher and lower levels of animal numbers.

Lanigan added: “That projects that there will be 1.67 million dairy cows and 850,000 suckler cows by 2030.

“Another scenario is that there will be 1.8 million dairy cows and 950,000 sucklers.

“The consequences of these scenarios in terms of our GHG emissions – they all increase – and depending on the relative size of the dairy in the beef herd there is a spread of about 2.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalence between the various projections.”