A new European Union proposal on ‘carbon farming‘ is unlikely to provide a framework to deliver any significant “extra income” for Irish farmers, one farm body has warned.

The EU published details of the proposal today (Wednesday, November 30) on the “certification of carbon removals to boost removal technologies and sustainable farming solutions”.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has described the proposal as “very disappointing and more likely to be a white elephant than a future cash cow”.

The proposal also sets out new rules for the independent verification of carbon removals and for certification schemes.

The EU has said that carbon farming practices can sustainably enhance the storage of carbon in soils and forests or reduce its release from soils, and create a “new business model for farmers and foresters”.

The latest carbon certification proposal underpin the European Green Deal which is the EU’s long-term strategy to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050.

Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, described the proposal for an EU certification of carbon removals as a “historic step”.

“To reach climate neutrality we need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to remove carbon from the atmosphere,” Timmermans said.

“Certified carbon removals create new business opportunities for farmers, foresters and land managers eager to go the extra mile for climate and environment.

“This has great potential for biodiversity as well,” he added.

But the president of the IFA, Tim Cullinan, has said Irish farmers disagree about the potential benefits that the proposal could deliver for farmers.

“While it’s early days, it appears there will not be any serious income-generating capacity from the proposal, unless a farmer has a considerable land bank,” Cullinan said. 

He believes the EU proposal is flawed in that it gives no recognition to carbon already stored on farms.

“Farms that have sequestered increased carbon over the years through hedgerows or other methods will get no credit for maintaining these, and continuing to store carbon.

“This document is very much a framework one, with lots of detail yet to be fleshed out. But it is clear that all the carbon built up on farms over the years is going to be ignored. This is wrong,” the IFA president added.

Cullinan believes the EU proposal currently contains “no reward” for reducing emissions on farms.

“It is extremely disappointing that the huge efforts farmers are currently undertaking in this area will not be recognised. Acknowledgement will only be given for removals through sequestration,” he added.

One key stumbling block in relation to the EU’s approach to carbon removal technologies and sustainable carbon farming solutions according to the IFA has been the lack of “a clear commitment” on incentives.

“It is important that the EU gives a clear commitment that any European or national funding to incentivise carbon removals will come from a new budget line, rather than from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),” Cullinan added .

The IFA president also said the process of certification could involve the gathering of very sensitive information and warned that “strong safeguards” were needed to protect this data.