Recently, global air pollution expert, Dr. Frank Mitloehner – during a series of interviews with AgriLand – highlighted recent US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research which found that agriculture and forestry combined are a “greater sink than source of greenhouse gases [GHGs]”.

During an interview with AgriLand, he stated: “According to the EPA in the US the agriculture and forestry sectors combined are a greater sink than source of GHGs.

In other words, agriculture and forestry put away more GHGs in the soils and in the plants than they emit.

As a result, a discussion has arisen amongst industry as to whether or not Ireland’s hedgerows and grasslands should be recognised as carbon sinks – with this conversation making its way to the Arrabawn Dairy Conference held last week in the Abbey Court Hotel, Nenagh.

While at the conference, AgriLand asked Conor Mulvihill, director of Dairy Industry Ireland (DII), for a response to these comments, made by Dr. Frank Mitloehner, from a dairy processor’s perspective.

AgriLand also asked Conor if DII thinks farmers should be rewarded for the carbon sequestration happening on farms.

Speaking to AgriLand at the eventConor responded by saying:

The answer is yes [farmers should be rewarded for capturing carbon]; that is where we have to get to at the moment.

“The other thing I would say, regarding Frank, and I am a huge follower of what Frank is saying, is it is easy to fall into because you want that [farmer’s to be rewarded for the carbon sequestration] to be the way it is.”

‘Rules of the game’

However, Conor pointed out that the “rules of the game from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been set to 2030” – which, he said, is an issue.

Continuing, he said: “So what Frank is looking for, yes we have to work towards it and we have to work with Teagasc to get that moving and get those metrics – as discussed this evening – but those credits will not be given to us until 2030.

Now we have to play by the rules of the game.

He added: “In terms of what is there; we have a target of 10-15% reduction, that is hugely challenging.”

However, Conor stated that transport and energy’s target is -40%.

“That is the recognition of the difficulty with the dairy and the beef industry – because we have enteric fermentation and there is no technology solution which can be applied. Whereas, with energy and transport, there are electric cars, solar and things like that.

“So as an industry, we have to work with our farmers. Our industry is nothing without the help of our farmers. Even the secondary processors, the likes of Danone, they are nothing without the dairy farmers.”

‘Not the silver bullet’

Conor went on to say that there are many other areas that farmers need to improve on, from an environmental perspective, and shouldn’t take Frank’s comments as “a silver bullet” for agriculture.

He stated: “If Irish dairy farmers are saying ‘well Frank is giving us a silver bullet and we don’t have to do anything’, that is not acceptable either because what he is talking about is GHG emissions.

“Trevor Donnellan [Teagasc economist] and Jack Nolan [senior inspector at the Nitrates, Biodiversity and Engineering Division at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine] have outlined today that there is ammonia; there is water degradation; there is soil degradation; there is welfare; and there is biodiversity.

“So while Frank is brilliant, and we will be working with him, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and Meat and Dairy Facts; it is not the silver bullet. We have a lot of work to do, but it can be done.

We have to look at all the elements of science; we can’t just pick the science that suits us.

“Also, we can’t just say we aren’t doing it because there is a professor in California saying it because the rules of the game are locked in now until 2030,” he added.