Smart Farming ‘must be applied more extensively’ across the country

The challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in farming can be achieved “without shutting down” the agricultural sector, according to independent TD Denis Naughten.

For 2030 – under the recently agreed EU Effort Sharing Regulation which sets out binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for each member state for the period 2021 to 2030 – Ireland’s target is for a 30% reduction on 2005 levels of emissions by 2030.

In a wide-ranging interview with AgriLand, the former minister for communications, climate action and the environment – who took part in the EU negotiations to agree national emissions-reduction targets for member states in order to implement the internationally backed Paris accord – said emissions must come down “in a managed way”.

“I have been talking to a lot of beef farmers – particularly those within the suckler sector who are hurting at the moment – and a lot of them are very concerned about what is potentially coming down the road in terms of meeting climate targets.

“I think it is irresponsible of anyone to say that we can continue to expand production the way that we have seen it over the last couple of years in terms of dairy, or previously in terms of beef, without having any consequences.

There needs to be a realisation here that you cannot have unfettered expansion, without having implications down the road in terms of our climate targets.

“The emissions will come down one way or the other. But, the important thing is that the emissions come down in a managed way that ensures that farmers get the best possible return for what they produce,” said the Roscommon-Galway representative.

‘Fabulous Farming’

Pointing to the Smart Farming programme – a voluntary resource efficiency programme led by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency – Naughten says this initiative “needs to be applied far more extensively” across the country.

The programme collates existing knowledge and expertise from Ireland’s leading academic and advisory bodies, state agencies and technical institutions and communicates this knowledge in a targeted way, to deliver on improving farm returns and enhancing the rural environment through better resource management.

The programme’s scientific foundation is derived from Teagasc’s Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) for Irish agriculture.

It focuses on eight key areas that have the highest costs on farms, or offer the greatest savings to farmers, including: soil fertility; feed; grassland; inputs and waste; water; time management; machinery; and energy.

This cost curve quantifies the opportunities to reduce agricultural greenhouse gases, as well as the associated costs or benefits.

More than 1,000 farmers have participated in the programme to date.

The latest figures show farmers participating in the Smart Farming voluntary programme are reducing emissions by 10% and saving an average of €7,170/farm a year.

“It’s a fabulous initiative. The profitability, on average, for farmers was an increase of €7,000/farm because they were managing inputs better – and at the same time reducing carbon emissions.

But we need to apply that far more extensively across Ireland than has been done to date – there have been a relatively small number of farmers involved.

“It is important that we continue to focus on that. But, if we continue to increase production at an un-managed rate, then all of the good work that is being done in reducing our emissions profile is going to come back to crucify us,” he said.

Naughten’s comments come ahead of the spring seminar for the Smart Farming programme of 2019 which is taking place today, April 30, in Portlaoise.