‘Carbon will be the dairy quota of the future’ – Hogan

Carbon emissions will be the new quota system for the future of Irish farming, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, has stated.

Pointing to the culling of 160,000 cows in the Netherlands last year due to a “phosphorus explosion” arising from increasing cow numbers, Commissioner Hogan has warned Ireland’s dairy farmers that there will be limits to herd expansion.

Climate and the environment are issues that are not going away and we have to deal with them upfront.

“Soil, water and air quality – those three issues – farmers must embrace those issues a little bit more and it will justify additional payments and also hopefully it will justify additional payments in the market place as well.

“Carbon is something that will ultimately have to be priced,” Commissioner Hogan told a room full of farmers at the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association’s (ICMSA’s) annual general meeting in Limerick last Friday (November 30).

‘Worse than inspectors’

The commissioner advised farmers that “life could be made easier” in the future through the incorporation of carbon sinks on farms.

“Every minister in Europe is agreeing with this because they see in the market place that there is no choice.

“It will take some Chinese buyers to walk around a few farmers’ yards without any invitation – worse than the inspectors – and they will see what’s going on and they will say ‘there is a problem here, it’s against our food law in China and therefore they are going to ban all of our exports from Ireland to China’ – which is our biggest market for infant formula and the biggest market for dairy exports.

You have to be mindful that this is a very sensitive issue for consumers. The limits and the targets that we’re setting have to be met by the member states.

“You saw the issue in the Netherlands where they had a phosphorus explosion arising from increasing the number of cows and they had to cull 160,000 cows this year.

“This is going to be the new quota of the future – you can only go so far; you can’t go anymore depending on the environmental conditions and that’s what we have to work out as soon as we possibly can,” the commissioner said.

While emissions from Irish agriculture have generally been on the decline since the late 1990s, the recent growth in Irish agricultural output – and in particular the expansion of the dairy sector – has seen emissions begin to increase.

Teagasc’s Analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021-2030 report projects that agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could increase by 9% relative to 2005 by 2030 in the absence of mitigation.

Ireland has an EU commitment to reduce overall GHG emissions by 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030 relative to the 2005 level.