Climate change demands could see return of milk quotas by the 'back door'
Dairy quotas could return by the "back door" in the shape of environmental regulations, the head of Teagasc has warned.
"Farmers are instinctively guardians of their environment. But we do have to deal with the challenge of climate change - not bury our heads in the sand," Professor Gerry Boyle told Green Cert students graduating at Ballyhaise Agricultural College.
"We were always wondering when the whistle would blow on climate change - well the whistle has blown. The government has published its targets. Agriculture has to reduced emissions by between 10-15pc by 2030.
"We don't want quotas coming in by the back door, particularly in dairy, and that is the risk.
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"You only have to go the North of Ireland to see what a restriction in relation to ammonia has done (in putting) the brakes on developing a dairy industry.
"We are far better off if we control the agenda down here. We have the technologies but now need farmers to engage with them."
Professor Boyle expressed frustration at how agriculture is perceived in the climate change discussion.
"People outside agriculture say the reduction (of 10pc to 15pc) is fairly mild when you look at energy of transport (double)," he said. "But anyone who knows anything at all about agriculture will realise that that is a very a demanding target.
"You can't produce meat without animals and, unfortunately, animals produce methane. There is no other sector in the economy that faces that problem. If you're a cement producing company, for example, your problem is that you're going to have to use a lot of energy, but you can switch your source of energy to renewables and continue to produce your cement.
"Farmers don't have that opportunity. You've got to have the animals, you've got to have good dairy cows to produce the milk. That basic observation continues to be misunderstood outside of agriculture."
Sustainability does not begin and end with environmental sustainability, he said: financial and social sustainability are also critical for the wider society.
"(The debate) is not just about the environment, even though that's critical. It's about, first and foremost, economic sustainability," Prof Boyle said.
"There's no point having a farm that's sustainable if it's not profitable - if it doesn't deliver a reasonable level of income that enables you to rear your children with a degree of dignity then you have to look again. Economic sustainability has to be at the core of the (sustainability) concept."
Dairy farmers need to set the agenda by engaging with technology, says Teagasc boss
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