Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has called on the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to develop an accurate ‘carbon calculator’ to help farms prepare for net-zero targets.

McAleer said it was vital farm businesses were able to establish their emissions baseline.

“Ireland and Britain are moving towards carbon neutrality inside the next 24 to 29 years. It is therefore essential that farmers know where they currently sit on the carbon emissions scale in order to plan ahead,” he said.

Net-zero target facing NI farming

It comes as the Private Member’s Climate Change Bill enters the Committee Stage as it passes through Stormont.

If passed, the Climate Change Bill will formally declare a state of climate emergency in Northern Ireland. It will also set a legally-binding net-zero target for the region to be achieved by 2045.

Clauses inserted in the document mean the target cannot be reduced and the date cannot be pushed back. However, it can be brought forward.

Calculating carbon in the Republic

McAleer urged the department to work with its counterparts in the Republic of Ireland to develop a suitable carbon calculator.

“I raised this issue with senior DAERA directors at the committee meeting last week and was glad to note that the department is carrying out pilot studies on six farms to develop this,” he said.

“I pointed out that the picture is confusing. Some experts such as the UK Climate Change Committee highlight the need to cut herd sizes to reduce net emissions while other experts, such as Prof. Alice Stanton, suggest that many farms, particularly those in marginal areas may already be carbon neutral, sequestering more carbon than they produce.

“DAERA also states that emissions can be achieved through production efficiency, leading to profitability.

“At the meeting, the officials told us that they are looking at a ‘menu’ of options for farmers – such as reduced calving intervals and shorter finishing times as a means to cut down in emissions.

“I also note that national experts in Teagasc have identified actions in their Green House Gas (GHG) Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) such as extending the grazing season, mixed grass swards, changing to protected urea fertilizer, reducing losses from slurry and substituting clover for chemical fertilizer help to reduce emissions while also cutting costs.

“Other advances have been made in beef genomics, soil pH and reducing the crude protein in cattle diets have been found to reduce emissions. The incorporation of specific minerals and seaweed into cattle diets has also been identified as an effective means to reduce emissions.

“GHG emissions can be balanced out through environmental actions such as hedgerow and tree planting, the re wetting of bogs and appropriate nutrient management of soils to maximise their carbon storage potential.

“However, sequestration can only be calculated if it is accurately measured and the department has already made good progress with the BovIS GHG calculator.

“The department must continue their pilot work and engage with Teagasc and other experts to give farmers the tools to accurately measure what they are emitting and sequestering so that they can plan ahead.”