Sunday 25 September 2016

Viewpoint: It's time for us farmers to get real about climate change

Published 16/12/2015 | 02:30

This aerial shot shows the scale of flooding and damage in the Athlone area following Storm Desmond and last week's downpours. Photo: Peter Barrow
This aerial shot shows the scale of flooding and damage in the Athlone area following Storm Desmond and last week's downpours. Photo: Peter Barrow

Thousands of farmers along Ireland's waterways have been given a taste of the kind of climate chaos that scientists have been predicting over the last fortnight.

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It just so happens that many of those same climate scientists were gathered in Paris for the last fortnight, arguing with politicians and interest groups - including farmers- for greater action on climate change.

Predicting what way emissions will go over the coming decades is virtually impossible, with so many unknown variables such as economic activity and new technologies.

The leaves even the best scientists' predictions open to challenge, spin and interpretation.

Here's what we do know.

Farm emissions fell by more than 15pc after a peak in 1998, largely due to de-stocking linked with the decoupling of CAP payments.

Despite increased milk production adding over 1m tonnes to the sector's greenhouse gases emissions by 2020, total emissions from the sector will still be 4-5pc lower than the EU's base year in 2005.

Thankfully, EPA projections suggest that the rest of the economy is going to do the heavy lifting to allow Ireland to still sneak in with a 20pc overall reduction by 2020, thus escaping disastrous EU fines.

Achieving the additional 20pc reduction by 2030 is going to be a bigger ask. If we double the area of forestry being planted annually, we'll buy ourselves a bit of time until we have to start chopping them down again.

Carbon taxes on food have been mooted, but we've no control over what tax is charged by other countries buying 90pc of our output, and if we slap on a tax at this end before it's exported, we'll be more expensive than the competition that chooses not to tax its food output.

Farm organisations argue that the sector should be allowed increase output by 85pc over the coming decade. Their logic is that if we don't do it, somebody else will, and in a less carbon-efficient way.

But rather than dismissing targets and pointing at other sectors, could the agri-lobby engage more proactively with all the possibilities that technology offers?

A case in point is the much maligned beef genomics scheme. Sexed semen that will allow more beef to be produced from the dairy herd and fertiliser granule coatings that drastically cut ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions are other examples of new developments that will all help.

It won't be all up to farmers. Consumers also need to do their bit by cutting the 33pc of food that is binned.

But farmers can't carry on thinking that climate change targets are somebody else's problem. As a sector, it's going to have to buy into big changes in order to safe-guard its own future, and the future of the wider planet.

Indo Farming

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