Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 April 2018

The sums don't tally on farming growth plans and our emissions reduction targets

Ireland's emission targets: 'Something has to give'

Farming can expect substantial negative effects from climate change
Farming can expect substantial negative effects from climate change
Dave Robbins

Dave Robbins

It has been quite a week for farmers and the climate.

In the space of a few days, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that emissions from agriculture had increased.

The IFA's environment spokesman, Thomas Cooney, more or less admitted it would be difficult to reduce them without reducing the national herd, and the minister in charge of climate action in Ireland said that "we have to drive down emissions in agriculture".

It's easy to understand why farmers feel embattled by the whole climate change issue. When they look out over their stock, and the quality of the food they produce, it can be difficult to accept that any of this process can be causing harm.

So how will climate change affect farmers? What new targets and regulations will be imposed on them? How will farming be different in the future? Will it be different at all?


The EPA warn that severe flooding is likely to become more frequent in coming decades
The EPA warn that severe flooding is likely to become more frequent in coming decades

The most obvious way that climate change affects farmers relates to the climate conditions in which they farm. A report by Maynooth University looked at the impact global warming will have on farming conditions.

Its findings are in line with what the EPA predicts for Ireland's climate: wetter winters and drier summers. By 2050, winters will be 10pc wetter than the 2013 average, and summers will have up to a 17pc decrease in average rainfall. The way in which this rain falls will also change: "Lengthier rainfalls events in winter and more intense downpours in summer", the report says.

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The report also identifies threats from pests and diseases, reduced crop yields, drought, weeds, flooding, water salinity and waterlogging.

When it comes to soil temperatures, they are expected to be consistent with air temperatures (EPA), and will increase, with the most significant increase in the south-east.

This will favour tillage farming, where large crop increases are projected for wheat (79pc) and beet (39pc) by 2050, according to the Maynooth report.

However, these yield increases will be partially offset by an increase in pests and pathogens cause by climate change. Potatoes could see a 5pc drop in yield by 2050.

Overall, the impacts of climate change - whether from extreme weather or other stresses caused by global warming - will cost the sector €2bn a year. This is in a sector that contributes €24bn to the Irish economy, and would negate the €1.5bn expected to be generated by measures included in the Harvest 2020 programme. (The Food Wise 2025 strategy has since planned a 60pc increase in primary output from agriculture.)

"We need to keep an eye on this," says Harold Kingston, chair of the Cork Central branch of the IFA and former environment spokesman. "The crop varieties being developed now are bred to be drought resistant. We need to make sure there are varieties developed for conditions in Ireland."

Targets and regulations

So agriculture can expect substantial negative effects from a changing climate. But farming takes place in a wider context of national and international efforts to prevent climate change from getting worse (mitigation) and efforts to deals with its impacts (adaptation).

Although Ireland's Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 does not include binding sectoral targets, many believe these cannot be far off. Agriculture, which accounts for 33pc of Ireland's total emissions, will inevitably come under scrutiny.

When you add in the fact that Ireland is bound by EU targets to cut CO2 emissions by 20pc (compared to 2005 levels) by 2020, and by 30pc by 2030, then the focus on agriculture looks set to become intense. The Government earned some concessions from the EU regarding carbon sinks (grassland, forestry etc) under the LULUCF accounting process (Land Use, Change of Use and Forestry), but as Ireland is set to miss the 2020 target, pressure to meet the 2030 one will intensify.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture wants the farming and agri-food sectors to expand under the Food Wise 2025 strategy announced last July.

This calls for a 65pc increase in primary production, and an increase in the value of agri-food exports by 85pc to €19bn. Already, a 7.7pc increase in the dairy herd last year saw agriculture emissions rise by 1.5pc.

It seems the economic ministries want farming to expand and be more productive, while the regulatory parts of Government see problems with the increased emissions that accompany such expansion. Something will have to give.

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