The first meeting of the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group was held yesterday (Thursday, June 16), and though the tone of the meeting was largely preliminary to what is to come, some important concerns were raised.

Chief among these was the fact that neither solar panels on farm buildings, nor forestry planted on farms, count towards emission reductions from agriculture.

Solar panel installation on farm buildings feeds into energy sector emissions reductions, while forestry comes under the land use sector, which is considered separate from agriculture.

In other words, any emission reductions achieved through on-farm solar and forestry would not count towards a reduction in emissions from agriculture.

Under the Climate Action Plan, the agriculture sector is required to reduce its emissions by between 22% and 30% by 2030 (an exact figure is set to be established by the government in due course).

This is to be achieved as part of two national ‘carbon budgets’ – the first to 2025 and the second to 2030.

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were at the meeting yesterday and gave a presentation.

It is understood that the EPA told stakeholders that it would not be feasible to wait until later in the decade to begin cutting emissions if agriculture is to meet its 2030 target.

However, due to on-farm renewables and forestry not being on the table as options to achieve this for the sector, farm leaders questioned how a higher level of emission reductions could be achieved.

A possibility of cuts to cattle numbers was not discussed yesterday – or at least not in any great detail.

However, it is understood that some farm organisation representatives are concerned that a cut may become more than just a possibility if some activities farmers undertake – such as renewables and forestry – are ignored in the calculations for agriculture in respect of the Climate Action Plan reductions.

The farm groups noted that, if current methods for reducing emissions put forward by Teagasc are adopted – including methane-reducing technologies and new breeding techniques – the lower end of the 22% to 30% target range may be achievable.

However, if a higher target is set, it might be outside the scope of what the sector can manage at the moment.

The different environmental impacts of suckler-bred beef versus dairy-bred beef were also briefly mentioned.

It is understood that the meeting was told that dairy-bred beef has the lower carbon footprint of the two.

The group is due to compile a final report and send it to Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue later in the year – likely in October or November.

The next meeting of the Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group is set for June 30.