The Irish dairy sector is the most carbon-efficient dairy industry in Europe at present, according to a new report produced by the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS).
By: Sylvester Phelan
This presents a global opportunity for the sector – if it is given sufficient resources to maximise its potential, the document claims.
The report, “Positive Steps Towards a Low Carbon Future for the Irish Dairy Sector”, reviews the current situation for Irish dairy farmers and includes a range of recommendations. These are outlined below.
1. Knowledge Sharing: Knowledge sharing, brought about through an increase in funding for extension and advisory services – targeted at addressing climate change and other sustainability challenges is recommended by the report.
ICOS believes that additional support should be used to establish a structured knowledge-sharing programme on climate change, including one-to-one engagement and discussion group formats.
A detailed understanding of the reasons preventing the adoption of effective mitigation measures should also be carried out
2. EU Budget: The continuation of a well-resourced and strong Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post 2020, which supports active farmers is essential, according to the report.
Expenditure cuts to the CAP budget will have a detrimental impact on the ability of the agricultural sector to adopt climate change mitigation measures, it was noted.
3. Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme: The achievement of full certification under the SDAS is an achievable ambition, and should be completed in 2018, according to ICOS.
4. Incentivising carbon-efficient food production: While recognising the ongoing need to reduce emissions from agriculture, ICOS supports the development of new and innovative policy options to encourage the consumption of carbon-efficient foods.
5. Nutrient management: There is significant scope to improve soil fertility levels in Ireland. The health of Irish soil is a key factor in the production of food in an environmental and sustainable manner.
6. Sexed semen: Extensive availability of sexed semen (which predetermines the gender of the calf) offers significant potential to maximise dairy heifer calf numbers, while also facilitating increased usage of quality beef bulls – reducing the carbon footprint of the national herd, it was highlighted.
7. Biodiversity: Irish farmland systems have a unique competitive advantage when it comes to biodiversity and wildlife, according to ICOS. In the context of the Reform of the CAP, farmers should be incentivised to maintain a habitat management plan on their farms on a voluntary basis.
8. Afforestation: Ireland has a target to increase forest cover from 11% of total land area to 18% by 2046 – meaning an additional 450,000ha of forestry is needed. There is real potential for afforestation in Ireland to offset farm-based emissions.
The report also recommends the development of a worthwhile agro forestry initiative for livestock farmers to grow native trees.
9. Energy efficiency: Milk pre-cooling and variable speed drives for milking machine vacuum pumps can deliver significant savings in electricity costs and carbon emissions.
ICOS also recommends the greater availability of three-phase power at reasonable cost in rural areas to enable greater uptake of energy-efficient technologies on farms, as well as on farm renewable energy infrastructure.
10. Renewable energy: Among other measures including grant assistance, “sensible” financial tools are required to stimulate widespread uptake of on-farm renewable energy projects – including biogas from anaerobic digestion and solar panels on farm buildings.
ICOS also urges the Government to prioritise the establishment of community-led and co-operative projects in the area of renewable energy and micro generation.
11. Research and technology: There is a need to fund new research and develop new technologies designed to reduce emissions from agriculture, the report says.
Promising innovations that need ongoing support include: extracting valorisation from agricultural manure; LIDAR imaging technology to measure carbon sequestration; innovative dietary strategies such as the role of seaweed in reducing methane emissions; smart grassland systems using multi-species swards; and precision agriculture technology.
Knowledge sharing – gleaned from new research – has “an important and equal role in bringing the majority of farmers closer to the most efficient producers”, according to ICOS.
Commenting on the recommendations of the report, ICOS president Martin Keane said: “Ultimately, mitigation in agriculture and food production will require thousands of farmers implementing more efficient processes and management practices over a sustained period of time.
Moreover, climate change mitigation measures must be sustainable at every level as imposing expensive solutions on farmers is a non-runner.
“Continued focus must be on the promotion of solutions that improve farm financial performance, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”