The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has hit out at recent comments from the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the expansion of the dairy sector.

IFA president Tim Cullinan said this morning (Thursday, September 30) that “the blame game only distracts from the mammoth climate challenge”.

Speaking this week on RTÉ Radio 1, the EPA’s Laura Burke said that expanding the size of the national dairy herd is “unsustainable” without effective solutions to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Responding to these comments, Cullinan said: “We all acknowledge that more needs to be done, but singling out a specific sector is unhelpful and unfair on farmers”.

The IFA president highlighted steps that farmers are taking to make their individual farmers more sustainable, underlining that some €80 million has been invested in low-emission slurry spreading (LESS) equipment.

This contributed to a 7% reduction in ammonia emissions in 2019, Cullinan said.

He also noted that sales of protected urea have “more than doubled” in the past year, amounting to nearly 50,000t sold in 2020.

According to Cullinan, some 96% of farmers have engaged with the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP), agreeing to put measures in place to help improve water quality.

“Farmers have achieved economic growth in the sector, not by driving emissions up, but by improving productivity, increasing efficiency and adopting more sustainable farming practices,” he argued.

He also noted that, based on the EPA’s own 2021 Inventory Report, emission levels from agriculture are on par with 1995 levels, while, during the same period, emissions from other sectors, such as transport, saw substantial increases.

“Farmers are willing to do more to mitigate emissions, but they must be supported.

“ASSAP clearly shows what can be achieved if farmers are supported. 70% of the water bodies that have completed fieldwork under the programme have shown net improvements in water quality,” Cullinan said.

“We need more of these types of initiatives that work collaboratively with farmers. We have had enough of the blame game. It is distracting from the mammoth task ahead for Irish society to meet the climate targets,” he concluded.