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Minister McConalogue outlines strong progress of agriculture in meeting climate targets

Minister McConalogue outlines strong progress of agriculture in meeting climate targets

Addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action this week, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue TD outlined the real and tangible progress being made by farmers and the agri food chain to achieve their Climate Action Plan targets.

The Committee is undertaking its own review, following the publication of the Climate Change Advisory Council’s annual review during the summer.

Minister McConalogue outlined how the agriculture, food and marine sectors are playing a leadership role in delivering on the ambitions target which culminate in a whole-of-economy 51% reduction in emissions by 2030.

Policies and strategies devised by the Minister and the Department are bearing fruit with emissions from agriculture trending downwards.

The Minister said:

“We are seeing real and genuine momentum being generated by our sector. There is a huge appetite among farmers and primary producers to continue to play a leadership role in reducing emissions. To support farmers on this challenging journey, I have introduced measures to achieve abatement potential in the agriculture sector, backed by financial commitment including:

• CAP Strategic Plan with a budget of €9.8 billion to support farmers to transition to more sustainable practices while also supporting family farm incomes,

• A budget of €1.5 billion for the new agri-environment scheme ACRES,

• A five-fold increase in funding for Organic Farming to €256 million to triple the area to 7.5% of utilised agricultural area,

• €260 million to improve the carbon efficiency of the suckler herd through genetic improvement, and

• €43 million for a major genotyping programme for Irish cattle which was announced in May 2023 which will enhance the environmental sustainability, health and productivity of Irish beef and dairy herds.”

Minister McConalogue noted that emissions from the sector had reduced in 2022 which marked an important reversal of what had been a steady upwards trend since the lowest emissions were reported in 2011. The most significant driver for the decrease in emissions in 2022 was a decrease in use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser of 14.0%, which came following a similar decrease in 2021. This is a change the Minister is keen to consolidate upon and an ambition backed up through schemes and supports to help farmers move away from using artificial fertilisers.

Minister McConalogue said:

“It is critically important that we provide valuable information to farmers to inform decisions that promote the health of their soils. Nutrient management and soil health are central to achieving economic and environmental sustainability on farms. I have allocated €8.8 million to this programme, on top of this €2.5 million for multi-species swards in 2024. I also have supported the sowing of clover grasses every year I have been Minister. Multi species swards and clover have been proven to help livestock thrive while massively reducing the amount of chemical nitrogen required as it takes nitrogen occurring naturally in the atmosphere and puts into the soil.

These supports will enable farmers to reduce chemical fertiliser inputs, an economic benefit to the farmer and an environmental benefit to society while maintaining food production.”

The role of science, research and innovation, and knowledge exchange was also discussed and the important of such measures in supporting a range of actions for climate and environmental action, such as Teagasc’s Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC), that sets out a viable pathway towards reaching the 25% sectoral emission target set for the agriculture sector or the EU Directives on Nature Restoration and Soil Health.

The Minister gave the following example:

“We are leaving no stone unturned in discovering, supporting and backing cutting edge science that will deliver emissions reductions. Advancements in technology have powered the trajectory of agriculture over millennia and Ireland is central to driving the science that will provide quality food in a sustainable way. In 2020, I provided over €2 million for the establishment of a ‘National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory’ by supplying the scientific infrastructure to measure GHG fluxes from soils under agricultural management.

“This technology will enable researchers to assess the impact of reduced management intensity on organic soils under agricultural management which is a key action area under the 2023 Climate Action Plan. This project comprises of 30 “Flux Towers” spread across a range of soil types, under different management regimes throughout Ireland. This project is placing Ireland at the forefront of EU carbon sequestration research.”

Another example is the “Meth-Abate” research project, supported by €1.248 million in funding from both the Department of Agriculture, as well as Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) which has demonstrated significant potential for slurry additives to inhibit and reduce emissions from manure storage.

While the challenge facing all sectors of the economy in reducing emissions is significant, the Minister was clear that the agriculture sector is putting in place the building blocks to continue to deliver a downward trajectory over the coming years.

“The link between climate policy and food is a key priority for COP28 which fits within a broader political context of seeing the role of food systems as a catalyst for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. This is the first time in COP's history that the COP Presidency has prioritised the link between climate and food. Given the wider political and economic context within which COP operates, I strongly support this priority and I look forward to participating in a range of discissions on these important topics next weekend.”

“Internationally our approach to farming productively and environmentally is lauded. We are a livestock producing country because we can produce livestock and dairy really efficiently and really well. Livestock systems are both impacting and impacted by climate change and the solutions and technologies being implemented in our grassland-based system in Ireland has learnings for the international community.

“As a country we should be very proud of our agricultural heritage, how it has shaped our country and continues to do so now in the fight against climate change. Farmers, their co-ops and the processing sector are taking real, tangible and effective action and currently there is simply not enough recognition for that.”