Why the tillage sector is the ‘good kid in class’ when it comes to emissions

“The tillage sector is the most carbon neutral farming sector. It is the good kid in the class when it comes to emissions.”

With this in mind, the Irish Grain Growers Group (IGGG) has stressed that the sector should not take any cuts in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) review and should receive an increase in payments.

Clive Carter, secretary of the IGGG, spoke to AgriLand following the group’s submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture. Focusing on climate change and the environment, Carter and Pat Cleary outlined the positive role arable farming will have in the future of Irish agriculture post 2020.

“In the last round of CAP, the tillage sector was hit the most with greening, EFAs (Ecological Focus Areas) and the three-crop rule.

“The improvement in the last 10 years has been incredible for wildlife and bees. Bee populations are dying out. More tillage ground helps to keep the bees going because you have varying flower types – oilseed rape, beans and cover crops flowering into the winter.

“Mono-crop grass doesn’t give any food for bees and a lot of the reason bees are dying out is because of grassland. They have no food.”

While crops like peas, beans and oilseed rape are good for biodiversity, they are also hugely important in the food chain as a source of home-grown protein.

The protein payment has been a success in the last couple of years. There is a need to secure home-grown proteins in Europe and stop our reliance on imported soya.

“Beans and peas are leguminous crops. They push nitrogen in the ground and reduce the nitrogen requirement in the following crop.

“It has been a win all-round. Nutrient requirements in the following crops have been reduced. Growing these crops has helped to put more life back into the soil and helped to take in more carbon.

These things should be pushed more. Beans had low yields a few years ago and very few people grew these crops and millers weren’t able to manage them.

“People are now investing in technologies to work them. It’s brilliant to have home-grown protein. We’re importing 60% of all feed in this country.”

Home-grown and GM-free protein

Clive wants to see home-grown protein used, as it is traceable and GM free.

Most of the protein is imported in GM soya and our group has been pushing home-grown, GM-free protein.

“We think that tillage farmers should be getting a higher payment. They shouldn’t be cut; they should be getting an increased payment for what they’re doing – providing fully-traceable products, sequestering carbon and doing a good job for the environment.”

Premium products

Clive added: “We need to be promoting our own native feeds in everything and push for premium products like malting barley and gluten-free oats.

“€500 million of the €1.5 billion of exports from the beverage industry in 2016 was whiskey exports. Whiskey exports are set to triple by 2030. Whiskey and beverage sales could overtake beef.

“1% of the land is used to grow malt barley for those exports. It’s an all-round win to push the tillage sector.”

The IGGG stated in its report: “What if rather than growing carbon positive crops, to mitigate against the growing cow numbers, they could be used to mitigate the carbon emissions in the production of beer or whiskey?”

It went onto suggest that “GM-free, fully-Irish, carbon-neutral beer or whiskey” would have good marketing power and that “farmers would have to be paid accordingly for such a product”.