Teagasc unveils new report on sustainability of Irish farms

Teagasc has released its latest report benchmarking the sustainability of a range of farm systems in Ireland.

The report uses the Teagasc National Farm Survey to track the performance of dairy, cattle, sheep and tillage farms in improving their economic, environmental and social sustainability.

The study also monitors the adoption of farm innovations to achieve this goal. The report includes newly compiled data for 2019 along with data stretching back through the last decade, allowing for an assessment of farm performance over time.

Lead author of the report, Dr. Cathal Buckley, Teagasc Rural Economy and Development Programme, noted: “Dairy farms have a higher level of economic and social sustainability compared to most other farm systems, but also have higher levels of environmental emissions.”

The data indicate that dairy farmers continue to improve their environmental efficiency with lower levels of greenhouse gas and ammonia emitted per tonne of product produced. However, this improvement continues to be overridden by an increase in overall milk production, with the rising dairy cow population offsetting the improvement in emissions efficiency.

By contrast, drystock farms have lower levels of economic sustainability but also have lower levels of environmental emissions, Dr. Buckley noted.

Tillage farms were between dairy and drystock farms in terms of economic sustainability, but also have lower levels of environmental emissions.

“Notably, the majority of emissions on specialist tillage farms tend to be generated from drystock enterprises on the farm,” the author added.

Trevor Donnellan, head of the Agricultural Economics & Farm Surveys Department in Teagasc, and co-author of the report also commented, adding:

“Economic and environmental indicators were negatively affected in 2018 due to adverse weather conditions, but the more typical weather conditions observed in 2019 meant that this negative development was reversed.

The capacity of year-to-year weather variability to affect the trend in key sustainability metrics needs to be considered in assessing trends over time. It’s for this reason that the report publishes results on a three-year rolling average basis, in addition to simple annual data.

“The smoothing introduced by the rolling average process provides a trend that is more representative of the underlying developments,” he said.

Commenting on the release of the report, Teagasc director Prof. Gerry Boyle stated: “The extensive detail available in the Teagasc Sustainability Report provides policymakers with valuable information for policy design.

“The report illustrates that Teagasc, as a member of the EU Farm Accountancy Data Network, can provide guidance to peers across the EU in how best to measure sustainability in a wider sense, as envisaged in the EU Farm to Fork initiative.

“In particular, the increased provision of environmental metrics will be a requirement to allow a transition to a Farm Sustainability Data Network, as proposed under the Farm to Fork Strategy.”