Sustainable agriculture is now a key strategy for European farming and food production and it is no longer enough for Irish farmers to claim we are a natural and green island in our food marketing campaigns.
The challenge now facing Irish agriculture is to go to the market and actively demonstrate just how green and natural we are.
The first ever National Agricultural Energy Efficiency Conference will take place on December 6 at the Lyrath Estate Hotel, Kilkenny.
Shane McEntee, Minister of State at the Department of Food and Marine, will open proceedings to what promises to be an interesting and educational day for farmers.
This is a joint effort between Teagasc, SEAI, Farming Independent and Macra na Feirme.
Energy efficiency is often the most cost-effective first step in reducing a business's contribution to climate change and reducing business costs.
Better efficiency refers to products, systems or behaviours that use less energy to do the same or a better job than less economical or more wasteful ones.
Energy efficiency saves money on electricity and heating bills, as well as cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
CO2 is just one of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are contributing to climate change. Within the agricultural sector, methane and nitrous oxide are also very significant emissions.
The key to success on most farms is being adaptable and open to new ideas. In agriculture, heating, field operations, ventilation, lighting, air circulation and refrigeration equipment are the biggest energy users and efficiency improvement in these areas can provide big savings.
'Sustainable agriculture' is a new buzzword that forms a major part of Europe's plan for agriculture and food production.
The reality is that sustainability is at a relatively early stage of development right around Europe.
This puts Ireland in a good place and means there is an opportunity for Ireland to take a lead on it in the marketplace.
Most major retailers are now bringing in efficiency and carbon reduction targets, driven by pressure from legislation and customers.
What is a carbon footprint?
A 'carbon footprint' is a measure of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with an activity, group of activities or product.
Nearly everything we do produces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions either directly or indirectly; whether it is getting to work, watching TV or buying our lunch.
The most important greenhouse gas produced by human activities is carbon dioxide.
Carbon footprint methodologies range from online calculators to life-cycle analysis.
Benefits of carbon footprinting in agriculture
There are two main reasons why farmers should consider carbon footprinting from a business perspective.
Firstly, it's a way to start making real efficiencies, and therefore cost savings within your business. Knowing exactly where and how you are using your resources and so generating a carbon footprint is one of the best ways to do this.
Electricity prices are projected to rise. For farms rearing intensive livestock or other activities that have a high energy use, this represents a major increase in overheads.
Padraig Brennan, from Bord Bia, will address the conference outlining Bord Bia's initiative to achieve accreditation for a carbon footprint calculation model, working with Teagasc and the Carbon Trust in Britain.
Bord Bia has integrated the carbon footprint model with its quality assurance scheme, which allows it to establish and verify such a leadership position for Irish beef.
The initiative followed research conducted on behalf of Bord Bia with European buyers in the retail and manufacturing sectors, which revealed buyers wanted more proof of Ireland's sustainability performance.
Farmers who act now and get their carbon footprint calculated can ensure they are in the best position to meet this growing need from their customers, and secure new business.