Fianna Fáil TD for Laois-Offaly, Barry Cowen, has said that Ireland’s national herd can be maintained once the technology associated with genomics and feedstuffs is available on farms throughout the country.

“As a clear pathway emerges from the research processes [that are ongoing], there remains the potential for vast reductions of methane emissions in the future, ” he told Agriland.

“So we shouldn’t at all contemplate a cull or a cut [in the national herd] on the basis that that won’t materialise.”

He said every effort should be made by the government to ensure that such research is fast-tracked and delivered as soon as possible.

“If feedstuffs emerge that can point to a reduction (methane) then the larger co-ops, for example, can form alliances to make sure that it can get to every farm in the country.”

He was reacting to recent comments from environment minister, Eamon Ryan, who suggested that, in order to achieve strict carbon emission reductions, a national herd cull could be in the cards.

Speaking on The Tonight Show, the Green Party minister said that he believes anaerobic digestion could be part of the solution to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, however, development of this would require the re-allocation of grassland.

“One of the ways we can create new income for farmers is through using anaerobic digestion so that some of the grass we’re currently giving to cattle, goes instead to create our own gas, so we don’t have to buy imported gas,” he said.

“We won’t have as many cattle but we will have greater income. And that’s the sort of choices that I think we need to make,” the minister said.

Lower-end emissions

Deputy Cowen said he will insist and will argue within Fianna Fáil that the emissions target for agriculture be set at the lower end – 22% – of initial recommendations.

“Such a commitment is a major acknowledgment of the sector’s responsibilities and must be augmented by government supports to entice, encourage, and work with farm families in achieving this ambition.

“That ambition must and will signify our interest in maintaining and enhancing the quality of our products with production systems that match environmental ambition and consumer sentiment,” he said.

He added that Minister Ryan should be “hell bent on greatly improving the meagre targets associated with offshore wind energy”.

“I would also contend that we increase our ambitions associated with potential energy dividend from offshore wind capacities off our coasts, particularly the west coast.

“As agriculture minister, Charlie McConalogue says, ‘every sector must do what it can’, so Minister Ryan has the potential within his own department to do a lot more for our emissions targets, energy provision, and our economy rather than the lazy nod to the agricultural sector.

“We have led the world in the quality of our agricultural produce to date. It’s contribution to our economy is appreciated and it’s imperative we work with that industry rather than issuing lectures/dictates thus ensuring the programme for government targets and ambition can be realised rather than stalled.”