The Food Vision Dairy Group’s interim report calls for a ‘cap-and-trade’ scheme for dairy farms to allow carbon trading based on emissions and sequestration.

As reported by Agriland, the report includes 17 recommendations, which have now been seen by the stakeholders on the group.

The recommendations are broken down into two groups: group ‘A’ deals with direct measures to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the dairy sector; while group ‘B’ deals with less direct “enabling factors” to support a cut in emissions.

Group A is made up of the first nine recommendations, while group B contains eight.

The first nine recommendations, which will be covered in detail in this article, are as follows:

  • Consider voluntary retirement/exit scheme;
  • Explore potential of ‘cap-and-trade’ methane-focussed emissions model;
  • Explore possibility of monitoring carbon production at farm level with a view to carbon farming options;
  • Reduce chemical nitrogen (N) use in dairy sector by 35% in short term;
  • Achieve 80% replacement rate of CAN fertiliser with protected urea by the end of 2025;
  • Ensure 100% adoption of slurry additives by the end of 2025;
  • Develop methane-mitigating feed technologies;
  • Development of breeding strategies;
  • Common policy on milk intake from new entrants.

These nine recommendations are outlined below in more detail:

Voluntary dairy retirement/exit scheme

This measure would be based on the assumption that the land released through such a scheme could not be used for milk or breeding ruminant production for a set period of time.

The report says that a retirement scheme could provide the space for just transition to allow the next generation to adopt climate friendly practices, and it is proposed that such a scheme would also integrate a milk reduction scheme for those farmers who wish to scale back their farming activities.

The report notes that such a scheme would have to be extended to all ruminant farmers.

Furthermore, the milk made available through the scheme would have to be prioritised for new entrants and other favoured entrants, such as indebted suppliers.

Current retirement schemes operated by individual processors would inspire a ‘national’ scheme, and the potential of co-funding by processor and the state would be looked at.

Cap-and-trade model

A cap-and-trade model for emissions from the dairy sector was identified as the “least-worst option” by the stakeholders out of three proposals put forward by the department at the third meeting of the group (the other two being a cap on cow numbers and a cap on milk volume production, both of which were rejected).

The report says that “urgent work” is needed to explore the potential of this model for “methane rights”.

Such a move would take into account land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) and would depend on the availability of farm-level carbon data.

This model would involve the measure of total carbon emissions and sequestration at individual farm level, assigning “rights” and the creation of a trading system (though this will depend on what moves the EU makes on carbon farming).

The report also acknowledges that the consensus of all livestock sectors would be a key contributing factor.

Monitoring carbon production

Regardless of whether a cap-and-trade scheme is put in place, monitoring of carbon production at farm level will still be required.

The group recommends that those bodies which have access to this data – Teagasc, the Irish Cattle Breeders’ Federation (ICBF) and Bord Bia (and, if needed, a suitable private sector partner) – should prioritise collaboration with each other.

Apart from that point, this recommendation is linked with the cap-and-trade model, and shares many of the same details in the report.

Reduce chemical N use

The report calls for reinforcing and sustaining practices at farm-level that will support reduction of chemical N dependence through the reduced use of CAN (calcium ammonium nitrate) fertiliser, while also maintaining output.

The group calls for a combination of financial supports, intensive advisory measures (such as a dedicated advisory service for this particular purpose), industry backing and regulation to achieve the reduction in chemical N use.

The report calls for protected urea to become the fertiliser of choice for grass-based systems.

However, the reports warns that the transition away from chemical N would be difficult and there are several unknown factors.

Adoption of the enabling measures to reduce N will be a key challenge. Therefore communication and education will be of central importance, as well as monitoring the impact of changes of fertiliser usage on farming practices.

On the policy side, the report highlights the need to ensure that productivity is not impacted and to remove the potential for fodder shortages. An incentivisation scheme will also be necessary.

It is envisaged that this measure will eventually have implications for all grass-based systems, not just dairy.

Replacement of CAN

The group recommends speeding up the adoption of urea-based technologies to replace ammonium-based fertilisers.

This transition away from unprotected urea is expected to begin by the end of 2023.

The recommendation of the group is to significantly increase the speed of transition towards the use of protected urea on pasture.

All stakeholders are called on to consider the establishment of concrete actions and supports for farmers to achieve this.

“Collaboration and commitment” throughout industry will be key, the report says.

Slurry additives

The aim of this recommendation is to acidify slurry to decrease the pH of slurry below 6. When this occurs, chemical reactions produce ammonium rather than ammonia gas, thereby reducing ammonia emissions. This can be done by adding sulphuric acid to slurry.

An “education piece” on best practice in slurry management is recommended in the report. Evidence from other countries has highlighted the benefits of the mild acidification of slurry.

The group calls for a coordinated approach to ongoing research by state agencies in order the maximise the benefits of slurry additives.

A cost-benefit analysis on the installation and maintenance of acidification systems on dairy farms would also need to be established, the report says.

Methane-mitigating feed

The report calls for research on feed additives and feeding methods to be accelerated and supported.

It notes the evidence in favour of the additive 3-nitrooxypropanol (‘3-NOP’) for reducing enteric methane, but also stresses the need for further research.

Marketing for this additive has recently been approved by the European Commission.

The report also highlights evidence in favour of press cake, grass silage dry period feeding, seaweed and asparagopsis.

Dairy breeding strategies

The report says that the Economic Breeding Index (EBI) can be used to breed lower methane producing animals across different genders, systems, breeds and within breeds.

It also notes that, unlike other more restrictive measures, improved genetics has significant benefits for farmers.

The report recommends further development for the long-term potential of better breeding.

Detail will be required on ICBF breeding strategies that provide precise metrics on what can be delivered in terms of emissions reduction towards 2030.

Furthermore, consideration should be given to direct measurement of methane (especially at grass), age of slaughter, dairy-beef integration and genotyping (including DNA registration).

As with some other measures, this recommendation will involve other livestock sectors as well.

New entrants to Dairy

Finally in these nine direct impact measures, the reports states that there was a recognition from stakeholders on the requirement to protect the family farm grass based model and maintain the sector’s ambitions to attract “talented new entrants”.

However, it also states that a “high-growth expansions model” of dairy farming is not seen to be consistent with this approach.

The group recommends the need for a consistent milk intake policy across co-ops for new entrants, where young farmers with enterprises built on grass-based family farms are prioritised.

Restrictions on the upper limit of cows on new enterprises should be considered to prevent “mega herds” developing and any conditions of contract should remain over a period of years subject to review.

This action should also involve supports for generational renewal and young farmers.