Dairy expansion and fertiliser usage set to drive agri emissions up 9pc

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are projected to increase by 9pc by 2030, relative to the 2005 baseline, unless action is taken, according to a new report from Teagasc.

This projected increase, highlighted by Teagasc, will be mainly driven by increased dairy cow numbers and fertiliser use on Irish farms.

It comes as Ireland faces EU commitments to reduce overall GHG emissions by 20pc by 2020 and 30pc by 2030, relative to the 2005 level.

While GHG emissions from the sector have generally been on the decline since the late 1990s, the recent growth in Irish agricultural output, and in particular the expansion of the dairy sector, has seen emissions begin to increase.

The report highlights the potential for GHG abatement based on current scientific knowledge to limit the emissions from the sector.

Currently agriculture comprises one-third of Irish GHG emissions. Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions principally comprise of methane (from enteric fermentation and manure management) and nitrous oxide (from fertilizer and animal excreta deposition on soils).

Conversely, grasslands and forests soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, offsetting some of these emissions.

In recent months, European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner, Phil Hogan issued a stark warning that Ireland will face massive fines unless it improves its environmental performance.

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Speaking at the Department of Agriculture’s Food Wise conference in Dublin, Hogan said Ireland needs to ‘wake up and wake up soon’ to the reality that it is part of a European Union that has assumed the role of global leader in tackling climate challenges.

The Teagasc report identifies a total of 28 different abatement measures that could be employed to reduce emissions.

These measures would either reduce emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture or increase the level of carbon sequestration through additional forestry and bio-energy production.

The report emphasises farm practices that improve efficiencies at farm level and thereby reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions.  Other actions are identified that sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere such as afforestation.

The principal mitigation measures include further improvements in dairy and beef genetics, improved nitrogen use efficiency, altering the fertilizer type applied, increased afforestation, improved sequestration in agricultural soils and enhanced production of biomass and biogas.

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