The government must engage with farmers in a bid to agree a way forward on climate action and food production, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said.

The comments come as the government published Climate Action Plan 2023 this afternoon (Wednesday, December 21).

The strategy details out how Ireland will accelerate the action required to respond to the climate crisis, including the measures which need to be taken within the agriculture sector over the coming years.

15 specific actions aiming to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector are earmarked for delivery or implementation in 2023.

This includes supporting land use diversification options for farmers, such as anaerobic digestion (AD), forestry and tillage, as a way to incentivise the voluntary reduction of livestock numbers.

Climate action

However, IFA president Tim Cullinan believes that further engagement with farmers is needed to ensure that emissions can be reduced while the agriculture sector develops.

“The world needs more food and Irish farmers all well placed to produce food in an environmentally-efficient manner.

We are committed to reducing emissions, but it cannot be at the expense of farmers’ livelihoods or by reducing output.

“When we met the minister for agriculture [Charlie McConalogue] last week, we made it clear that IFA is willing to engage further to try and find agreement around a Climate Action Plan for the sector which can continue to facilitate the sustainable development of our sector,” he said.

“The debate has become unnecessarily divisive with far too much focus on cattle numbers. The focus must be on reducing emissions, not on reducing cattle numbers.

“The issue is that the government could do real damage to our sector to meet a short-term target when technological advancements could well to help us achieve our 2030 targets,” Cullinan added.

The IFA president called on the government to invest more in research and development to develop such technologies.

“The European Union has already approved a product which significantly reduces methane emissions from livestock. We need to expedite already promising research and how this and other products can be delivered in a grass-based system.”

Cullinan voiced concernabout some aspects of the proposals around Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).

“There needs to be much more engagement with farmers on these issues. Any measures in this area must be entirely voluntary.

“It must be remembered that farmers are citizens too, and they and their families will have to adapt to the changes in the transport and energy sector,” he said.