‘No silver bullet’: Boyle points to mix of emission-busting farm measures

Teagasc has identified 25 measures for livestock farmers to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, according to director of Teagasc, Prof. Gerry Boyle.

Speaking to AgriLand at the conclusion of Virtual Beef Week last Friday, July 10, the director explained:

“In my opinion, in all of these matters, we’re heading into unchartered territories in some respects – and that’s where research and knowledge is critical.

“The word mitigation would have been unknown in farming circles certainly five years ago. Most farmers now are very conscious of emissions. And it’s a big challenge from a technological point of view, to deal with it.”

“Noting that Teagasc research has shown a number of measures,” Prof. Boyle said:

There’s no ‘silver bullet’ first of all – we all like the silver bullets but there are not any in this; in fact, we’ve identified about 25 measures that can be used to reduce emissions.

Prof. Boyle pointed to three measures which have been researched extensively and offer clear paths to reducing emissions from livestock farming.

Measures

Elaborating, the Teagasc director noted: “One of the most important ones is if a farmer switches the form of nitrogen, which is typical CAN [calcium ammonium nitrate], to what we call protected urea.”

This, he said, will have no adverse effect on production – but it will reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses and ammonia.

“Therefore, that’s why we’re advocating that – and it’s going to take time for farmers to understand and be comfortable with what would be for many of them a major change over.”

Prof. Boyle noted that change will be difficult for some farmers, particularly those who would be used to ordering the same fertiliser from their local co-op or merchant for years – and might have seen their parents do the same.

“Similarly we know that slurry is hugely valuable; we used to consider slurry waste one time; now we know that if it’s applied at the right time of the year and in the right weather conditions – and with the right process; that’s why we’re advocating the trailing shoe – then farmers can get the optimal value from that.

“Therefore, the farmer will have to use less chemical nitrogen,” he added.

Finally, the director pointed to the extensive research being conducted over a number of years in Teagasc facilities in Clonakilty and Solohead on the incorporation of clover into cow diets.

We can get fantastic results from clover from a production point of view, in relation to milk solids – but critically also of course we can reduce the amount of chemical nitrogen to be used.

“These are only some of the measures,” the director said.

Grassland carbon sequestration

Following on from his discussion on the final episode of [email protected] on Friday, Prof. Boyle also highlighted the opportunity farmers have to sequester carbon, but warned: “We’re a bit away yet from capitalising on that.

“Now we have a window, because thankfully we’ve a lot of trees in the country now, compared to what we had. They sequester carbon and they’re going to continue to sequester carbon – those trees that were planted 30 years ago – up to 2030.

Thereafter, we would like to see more trees planted but there are issues there – but critically under our grasslands we have a phenomenal storage of carbon.

However, the director warned: “We have to be able to demonstrate that carbon is there and is being sequestered – and that’s going to take research and it’s going to take time.

“Certainly that’s something that we have a programme for in Teagasc to at least provide the evidence on that sequestration.”

Importance of attitude

Asked as to whether it would be difficult to get farmer buy-in for measures such as increased afforestation, Prof. Boyle explained: “I always say, when it comes to change, a farmer isn’t any different to the rest of us.

“I often give the example that we had [in] a discussion on farm safety; I use chainsaws for example, I don’t always – to be perfectly honest – do what I ought to do, what my colleagues tell me, and that’s because of inertia and bad habits and so on – and farmers are no different.

Attitudes are hugely important; the attitude the farmer has himself or herself – but also the attitude of the neighbours.

“And it’s not just afforestation; we would find the same in relation to our advocacy of grass measuring for example.

“Again, some farmers can feel a certain social kickback from fellow farmers. What would change a lot of things is the reality of the regulatory environment; the market environment.

“That’s all changing in tandem; indeed, the market is probably changing faster than the regulatory environment.

Farmers – I think – realise very quickly when it starts to impact on the products they can sell.

“If they can verify that they’re achieving a certain level of environmental sustainability performance that may well affect their ability to trade – and trade profitably – they will [adapt],” Prof. Boyle concluded.

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