Agriculture in Ireland has to determine a “future vision” for the sector that is both sustainable and can adapt to the changing climate, the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said today (Wednesday, May 15).

Speaking at the EPA Climate Change Conference 2024 in Dublin, Laura Burke said that there is a commitment from the agriculture sector to reduce emissions by 25% by 2030 but the significant risk is not achieving that.

Burke said that she can see “action is happening on the ground” for mitigation through reduced ammonia emissions; the take-up of low emission slurry spreading (LESS); and the use of protected urea.

However, she said that while the agriculture sector produces emissions that cause impacts to the climate, the sector is also affected by the changing climate.

She told Agriland that the effects could be seen this year, with wet weather impacting the beginning of the growing season.

“No matter how much we mitigate climate change, adaption will still need to happen,” Burke said.

EPA advice on ways to adapt

For the next step of adaptation within the sector, Burke said farmers should be looking at how to diversify and not rely on one particular agriculture aspect.

Burke advised farmers to avail of forestry programmes and to use some of the organic farming incentives.

She said that issues can be addressed and used as “win/wins”.

Taking the east and the south-east of Ireland as an example, Burke said that the area has “quite an intensive dairy sector”, which sees greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions impacting the environment, along with impacts on water quality.

“If you address that, you can have a win/win of both water quality and greenhouse gas emissions as part of that overall diversification,” she said.

“Diversification will support adaptation anyway, because you are less reliant on one particular aspect in the agriculture sector.”

While work can be done on an individual farm level, Burke said that “it is really how does the sector engage overall”.

She said there is a commitment from the sector to reduce emissions by 25% by 2030, and that the most “significant risk” is not achieving that target.

“What we want is a thriving agriculture sector, an agriculture sector that is sustainable from an economic, environmental and social perspective, and that can stand over the environmental credentials in which we market it,” Burke said.