From a policy perspective, conversion of permanent grassland into tillage land is restricted to a maximum of 5% under current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) regulations.

Ploughing permanent pasture for tillage results in a loss of soil carbon “which somewhat offsets the benefits” of reductions in the short-lived greenhouse gas methane (CH4) and “our understanding of this trade-off is still evolving”.

These were the sentiments expressed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, during Dáil proceedings last week after he was asked by deputy Thomas Pringle (Independent) if he had been provided with calculations by Teagasc of the potential amount of land that is not under grass that might be available for conversion to tillage or agroforestry without the loss of soil carbon.

Deputy Pringle also highlighted to the minister that Teagasc scientists claimed that conversion from grassland, beef and dairy to tillage crops, would result in net increases of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on a life-cycle basis.

He also asked the minister what his views were on the recommendation by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action for diversification measures to ensure that Ireland can become more food secure by growing more tillage crop.

Addressing emissions

Minister Creed, meanwhile, pointed to GHG emissions and highlighted how there was a need to “address emissions from ruminant livestock farming systems”.

Teagasc has published a suite of GHG mitigation measures for Irish agriculture that can assist in achieving this objective without the negative impacts of converting grassland to tillage.

He continued: “Currently, Teagasc is exploring the capacity to increase GHG mitigation via enhancing soil sequestration.

“This research is supported by my department; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EU; and international bodies.

It is being conducted in conjunction with Irish and European universities and research performing organisations.

“I am committed to promoting diversification of activity at farm level – in line with the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action report and in the wider rural economy – to restructure agriculture to more sustainable land uses that will yield secure family farm income in the longer term.

“Agriculture and land-use can positively contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy and society and can and will play its part.”