Climate change: ‘More forestry needed on farms – particularly dairy’

Irish agriculture must embrace climate change from a positive perspective and incorporate new methods of mitigation into everyday sustainable farming, according to Teagasc chairman Liam Herlihy.

One method highlighted was that of encouraging more native forestry on Irish farms, particularly dairy farms.

The new chairman for the authority was speaking to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine earlier today (Tuesday, October 23), with sustainability a key topic in discussions.

Commenting on tackling climate change, Herlihy said: “I think, from my point of view and very much from a Teagasc perspective, as I see it the train has left the station there.

I think climate change is here; I think we’ve got to embrace it and I think, instead of curse in the dark, it is important that we embrace it from a positive perspective.

The chairman highlighted that, in his opinion, Irish agriculture must be sustainable from three pillars, noting that staying within the ambit of climate change, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability for farmers are all key for viable farm enterprises.

Mitigation

Herlihy said that a key role for Teagasc is in the area of carbon mitigation, underlining the dairy sector in particular as an issue in this regard.

“A big issue at the moment is the dairy sector and I think it is important to recognise – and that comes from a dairy background – that dairy is the area that is most challenged in that area by virtue of the high stocking densities.”

To tackle this, the chairman pointed to “soft options”, highlighting milk recording and the Economic Breeding Index (EBI) as key to ensuring that profitable, high-performing cows are in Irish herds as a start point.

But equally, what is important is that we encourage more forestry within our farms, particularly in the dairy area.

Herlihy noted in his address to the committee that native woodland on dairy farms will be important in tackling emissions going forward.

He also said that the replacement of fossil fuels in the future could also be an important factor.

‘Game-changers’

The Teagasc chairman highlighted two “game-changers” that would make a very significant reduction in agricultural emissions.

The first of these is in fertiliser spreading, changing from CAN to stabilised urea – an area in which a lot of work is being done at present, he said.

The second is farmers changing from slurry spreading using the splash-plate system to using the dribble-bar or injector system, which would make a significant difference also.

The chairman concluded the topic by saying that Teagasc’s role in the matter of climate change is through “a two-pronged approach to ensure that we have a vibrant agriculture, but equally that we embrace carbon climate from a positive perspective as well”.

“Because that is something that is upon us; we owe it to ourselves and to the next generation as well.”

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