The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said that it is “time to stop scapegoating farmers” over climate issues, and that “farmers can no longer be blamed for the climate inaction of others”.

Responding to the release yesterday of a report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which found that agricultural emissions increased by 1.9% in 2018 – IFA president Joe Healy said: “Lazy analysis points to the largest proportion of climate emissions coming from agriculture.

“There’s no science here; it simply reflects the importance of the agri-food sector to the national economy as our largest indigenous industry,” Healy argued.

Unlike other European countries, Ireland does not have large-scale industrial or manufacturing sectors.

The IFA argues that the findings from the EPA report are “stark” – but not necessarily because of agriculture.

The association highlights that, since 1990, emissions from transport have increased by over 137% since 1990 while, during the same period, emissions from the agri-food sector have increased by just 1%.

Healy added that it was important to view agricultural emissions “in their right context”.

Farmers’ development plans were stifled between 1984 and 2015, until the EU milk quota system was removed. The increase in output since 2015 has been important for farmers and their families. It has improved their economic sustainability as well as the social and economic sustainability of rural areas.

“Farming has also led a resource efficient development of the sector,” Healy added, reiterating the point that agricultural output has grown by 40% since 1990, compared to the 1% increase in emissions in that period.

The IFA says that the focus should be on science and technologies that reduce emissions per unit of output, rather than “stock numbers which are still low compared to what we had in the mid-90s”.

Furthermore, Healy highlighted that farmers are not getting enough credit for carbon sequestered through hedgerows and grasslands.

This is a point of real frustration for farmers. We should be able to calculate the net emissions from farming, giving credit for the carbon farmers are taking out of the atmosphere.

Concluding, Healy said: “Farming is the back-bone of balanced, sustainable development in Ireland. It’s our largest indigenous sector, employing over 300,000 people in almost every parish in the country. Growth in output from the sector continues to outpace stock numbers, ensuring our climate efficient model of food production continues.”