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Cutting our carbon hoofprint


Over half the suckler cows in the country will be included in the BDGP.

Over half the suckler cows in the country will be included in the BDGP.

Over half the suckler cows in the country will be included in the BDGP.

The rollout of training begins this month for farmers who have signed up to the six-year commitment of the €300m Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP).

Around 26,500 farmers are participating in the BDGP, with their combined herds coming to 542,000 cows - 41pc of the suckler herds in the country, and over half of the suckler cows.

Every farmer will receive an invitation two weeks prior to the Teagasc courses which are obligatory before October 31, 2016 for participating farmers. Participants will be paid €166 on the day of attendance, provided they have stayed the whole day.

Pearse Kelly, head of Drystock Knowledge Transfer Department at Teagasc, said it is important for farmers to attend. "There will be no more than two, maximum three opportunities to attend a course in each general area," he said.

The rationale underpinning the BDGP, and the basis for European co-funding of €168m for this programme, is the potential for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the agricultural sector.

So, how do the figures stack up, and what impacts can be expected on the emissions front?

To take a best case scenario, the Agriculture Department has stated that the potential GHG reduction is around 86,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually by 2020.

This figure is based on 4.4pc of marginal abatement potential from the suckler herd.

The climate mitigation benefits will begin immediately and are projected at 1.9 million tonnes (Mt) CO2 by 2030 or 235,000 tonnes of CO2 annually in 2030.

This latter figure would represent about 12pc of marginal abatement from the suckler herd in 2030. So, the potential for abatement is considerable.

Elsewhere, the Bord Bia Sustainability Report 2015 states that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture could be reduced by 6pc if lower-performing beef and dairy farms were brought back in line with the national average.

In this context it is interesting to look at the bigger picture provided in the 2015 report, 'Ireland's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections, 2014-2035' from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The figures and projections on which the EPA based its analysis here are provided by Teagasc.

The EPA states that agricultural emissions amounted to 19.04 Mt CO2 equivalent per annum in 2013, and are projected assuming hitting targets in Food Harvest 2020 to be 19.49 Mt in 2020 or 19.33 under the best case scenario, and 19.08 Mt, or at best 18.93, in 2035.

These projected figures are based on a reduction of the beef herd by 7pc between 2013 and 2020 and a contraction of around one-quarter in the total beef herd by 2035.

Paul Crosson from Teagasc explains that the reason the emissions reduction projected from the national suckler herd is not reflected in the overall agricultural emissions projections is that the overall figure includes the increase in production predicted from other enterprises, in particular dairy.

The current EU target for Ireland is to reduce emissions from the non-Emissions Trading Sector (ETS) - of which agriculture contributes about 45pc - by 20pc on 2005 levels by 2020. Ireland is currently on target to achieve 9pc instead of 20pc.

According to the EPA projections, agriculture as a sector is set to contribute just 2.67pc of the savings projected by all the other sectors - such as energy, industry, services residential and transport - by 2020.

The 2030 targets will be distributed among EU member states this year under so-called 'effort sharing'.

Under new rules to be introduced from 2020 to include emissions from land use, land use change and forestry, the carbon sink is to be allowed as an offset to agricultural emissions. Ireland is expected to negotiate hard for land use classification measures to effectively mitigate the targets.

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