Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Hitting emissions targets 'difficult for efficient Irish'

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Irish farmers will have difficulty reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting ambitious EU targets aimed at tackling climate change because they are "too efficient".

Unless temperature rises are kept below 2 C, farmers can also expect lower crop yields in the future, claimed Alexandre Meybeck, of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Good management of grassland means there is little scope for improvements, but using clover instead of fertiliser could lead to some reductions in carbon emissions.

"The difficulty for Irish agriculture is [that] the margin for improvement is reduced when you're already efficient," Mr Meybeck said.

"Grasslands are being managed efficiently but using more clover instead of fertiliser would be beneficial. Development of biogas [would lead to reductions] but may be difficult. Most of the potential for people is carbon sinks but they are not accounted for in Kyoto and EU regulations."


Globally, agriculture accounts for 13.5pc of all greenhouse gas emissions but Irish rates are far higher at 29pc. The EU average is 9pc.

"This is due to the importance of the livestock sector," he added. "When you compare the efficiency of this sector, compared to other parts of the world for a grass-based system, it's far more efficient because of know-how and experience.

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"We are less convinced that temperature rises can be kept below 2 C. If there's a 1 C shift, crop yields in tropical countries will fall but yields in northern countries will increase. If there's a 4 C shift, yields will fall everywhere."

Speaking in Dublin recently, Mr Meybeck also warned that farmers would have to adapt to "climate-smart agriculture" to ensure that food production rose to meet global demand.

Production would have to increase by 70pc by 2050 to meet the needs of a projected population of nine billion people, he said, which meant agricultural systems would have to be adapted to the conditions in which food was being produced.

"We have to have a global vision," he said. "The global population will increase by one third to 2050, milk and meat consumption is up and we will have to increase food production by 70pc to meet demand.

"The calf mortality rate in Africa is 25pc, which means you need five cows to produce four live calves. That means you have to deal with emissions from five cows. Improving efficiency could have a huge effect. The average yield in Malawi for maize is one tonne per hectare. In the best countries in the EU it's eight or nine tonnes. Why? Because sustainable intensification and natural resources are used more effectively.

"The reason we don't have the death rate for calves here is because we have good institutions, farmers are educated, we have industry, vaccines and better feed and vet services. These are all elements that are lacking in developing countries."

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