Department figures on dairy emissions 'misleading'

Emissions from the dairy sector increased by 24pc between 2012-16 according to EPA and CSO data
Emissions from the dairy sector increased by 24pc between 2012-16 according to EPA and CSO data

Ronnie Bellew and Claire Fox

The Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and department officials have "systematically" under-estimated the rise in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the dairy sector, An Taisce has claimed.

The environmental and conservation organisation has called on Minister Creed to amend the Dáil record in relation to a series of statements on the decoupling of increased dairy production from rising GHG emissions.

"The Dáil record needs to be corrected by Minister Creed as a matter of urgency, and repeated inaccurate claims by ministers and officials that dairy emissions have been decoupled from milk production need to be publicly retracted," An Taisce spokesperson John Gibbons told the Farming Independent.

Last November, Minister Creed told the Dáil that "the post-dairy quota era has proven we have broken the link between increased output and increasing greenhouse gas production.

"Since 2015 we have increased our dairy production by 13.2pc but our greenhouse gas emissions have only gone up by 1.6pc.

"This is significant in that we are breaking the link between increased production and increased greenhouse gas emissions."

These figures were repeated by Bill Callanan, assistant secretary general at the Department of Agriculture, a week later when he addressed the Joint Committee on Agriculture.

And, replying to a Dáil question last April, Minister Creed stated: "In the five year period 2012-16, dairy cow numbers have increased by 22pc and corresponding milk production by 27pc while emissions increased just 8pc, demonstrating a level of decoupling is happening."

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

An Taisce maintains that, based on the most recent analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this analysis is "demonstrably untrue".

It wrote to the Minister last month calling for a correction to the Dáil record.

In response, Minister Creed stated "The 8pc increase I referred to is the growth in total agricultural emissions and reflects that while dairy numbers (and emissions) are increasing, other sub-sectors of agriculture are contracting. It is valid to consider the sector as a whole in presenting this data."

However, An Taisce has rejected this response, claiming that it reinforces "a false narrative about dramatic decoupling of dairy production".

It added: "As a direct result of Government and industry policy, rapid increases in dairy output have not been achieved through efficiency improvement but rather by rises in cattle numbers and a large increase in fertiliser use to boost grass growth."

In a statement on the An Taisce claims, the Department of Agriculture repeated that Minister Creed was referring to an 8pc rise in overall emissions from the agricultural sector rather than the dairy sector alone.


"It (dairy) is a biological system so one cannot reasonably expect significant step-wise changes for a sector that is already among the most efficient in Europe as noted by the JRC (EU Joint Research Council, 2011 analysis).

"Additionally, the JRC acknowledged that while intensive dairy systems in Europe create less methane and nitrous oxide emissions than extensive ones, this is countered by higher emissions from land use and land use change," continued the Department statement.

"Lowest emissions are created by extensive grassland systems, such as those in Ireland. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has also recognised the efficiency of our temperate grassland-based production system.

"The most significant drivers for increased emissions in 2016 were higher dairy cow numbers with an increase in milk production.

"This is a reflection of the removal of milk quotas in 2015 and the national plans to expand milk production under FoodWise 2025. In spite of this increased production, dairy production systems have been found to be extremely efficient and have one of the lowest carbon footprints internationally.

"For example, research conducted by Teagasc showed that from 2013-15 the average carbon footprint of milk declined by 11pc to 1.04 kg of CO2eq per kg of fat and protein corrected milk," added the statement.

New research from Teagasc has warned that the Government could be forced to restrict expansion of the dairy sector if Ireland is to avoid fines of up to €600m per annum for not meeting the EU 2030 targets on emissions reduction.

A survey last week from the Climate Action Network - a global group of 1,300 organisations - claimed that Ireland was ranked 28th of 29 EU nations in progress on emissions reduction and renewable energy targets, with only Poland ranked below us.

Indo Farming

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App