Irish dairy farms produce three times more emissions than beef, tillage and sheep - Teagasc

Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Irish dairy farms are producing up to three times more greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions than other farming sectors and there’s no silver bullet for reduction, a new Teagasc study has stated.

Teagasc’s Sustainability study, which was based on results from the 2017 National Farm Survey on over 90,000 farms, shows that 62pc of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions on dairy farms were associated with dairy milk output, with 37.5pc allocated to beef production.

The study stated that dairy farm absolute GHG emissions are three-four times higher than cattle, sheep and tillage farms. The average dairy farm emitted 0.733kg CO2 equivalent per kg of milk produced in 2017.

While dairy farms are larger than cattle farms, on a per hectare basis they still produced twice as much GHG emissions than cattle farms in 2017.

In relation to ammonia, dairy farms also produced 2-3 times more than sheep, cattle and tillage farms.

Tillage farms had the lowest levels of greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions due to the lower number of livestock on these farms.

Teagasc Research Officer Trevor Donnellan pointed out that Irish agriculture is already at the “top of the league” and doesn’t envisage that a significant reduction in emissions will happen until a technical solution is developed that will address the increase in activity as well as emissions improvement.

“Emissions have been increasing, the dogs on the street know that. Emissions will continue to increase until efficiency catches up with growth in activity or until growth in activity comes down to reach the efficiency improvement,” he said.

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“The expansion we have seen isn’t at all surprising and is greater than most people anticipated. It’s a reality we have to continue to live with.  The overriding consideration is that we are kind of already at the top of the league in terms of producing.

“If you’re already extremely efficient, incremental further improvements will be harder to achieve. I don’t think short of a silver bullet technical bullet that we should expect to see a massive step change in emissions."

The study also highlighted that the dairy farms with the best economic profitability had the lowest emissions intensity per kg of milk produced with Teagasc Director Gerry Boyle adding that the “burden of adjusting to challenges on climate change will fall on the commercial farms.”

The study highlighted that in terms of profitability and output of emissions generated, dairy farms performed better than drystock farms as even though sheep and cattle are lower emitters of ghg and ammonia, they are poor revenue generators.

However in most cases the increase in herd size on dairy farms was overwriting any gains being made in efficiency.

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