Analysis: Sustainable farming is a lot more complex than just slashing livestock numbers
Ireland will not meet its greenhouse gas emission targets for 2020, according to a report recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ireland was given a legally binding target in 2009 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20pc below the 2005 level.
However, the EPA report suggests that the country is likely to achieve just a 4pc to 6pc reduction by 2020 and that Ireland will be penalised financially for not meeting these targets.
This latest report from the EPA shines the spotlight yet again on Irish agriculture, which currently contributes almost one-third of greenhouse gas emissions and which the EPA estimates will contribute 45pc by 2020 with existing measures/policies.
The Government plans to achieve a carbon-neutral agricultural sector by 2050 while simultaneously expanding the output of the sector in line with the Food Wise 2025 targets. Whether both goals are mutually achievable remains to be seen.
There has been considerable investment in both research and farm advice to promote climate-smart agricultural practices but as Laura Burke, director general of the EPA, concludes "there is still a lot of work to be done".
The considerable investment in research and farm advice is paying dividend with Ireland boasting the lowest carbon footprint for milk production in Europe and the fifth lowest for beef, according to international independent research.
Despite our high levels of carbon efficiency, we are still confronted with the challenge of reducing emissions, simply because our agricultural sector is large relative to the rest of the economy. Ireland produces enough food to feed 50 million people, but the carbon associated with their food consumption is counted here in Ireland at the point of production rather than at the point of final consumption.
So if Irish farmers are embracing climate-smart practices and are leaders in Europe at carbon-efficient production, what more can be done to achieve our greenhouse gas emission targets?