Saturday 24 August 2019

Cutting national beef herd by 500,000 cattle 'necessary' in order to bring down emissions

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Margaret Donnelly and Robin Schiller

The national herd should be cut by 30pc to reduce agricultural emissions, despite experts warning it could make matters worse.

One of the key recommendations of the Climate Change Advisory Council's report, which had a particular focus on agriculture, is a reduction in the beef herd.

"The current trend of rising cow numbers is unsustainable and a reduction in the national herd is necessary," according to Professor John Fitzgerald, chair of the council.

He said the national herd should be cut by 500,000 to 1.5 million cattle and this should be from the five million head of cattle in the beef herd, with the dairy herd "protected" as it delivers viable incomes.

"In framing our recommendations, we wanted to protect the dairy sector. Initially, we said right, we've got to cut cattle numbers, cut everything. But dairying is very profitable.

"So to force cuts there would be damaging to farm incomes, whereas seeing the reduction in the beef herd could potentially increase farm income."

There are obstacles to this, he admitted, including convincing farmers forestry is a positive option.

However, he admitted the possibility that exiting beef farmers might look at leasing land to dairy farmers was a concern as dairying was more intensive than beef production.

Head of economics at Teagasc Trevor Donnellan recently said exiting beef farmers will most likely lease their land to dairy farmers looking for additional land.

This, he said, could see a doubling of the stocking rate and a tripling of nitrogen use for a hectare of land moving from beef to dairy.

"A policy designed to persuade farmers to exit beef production entirely could be less successful in reducing GHG emissions than a policy that encourages beef farmers to stay in beef farming and merely operate at a lower production intensity," Mr Donnellan said.

The annual review of the Climate Change Advisory Council also warns the Government needs to take "urgent action" if Ireland is to meet its climate change targets.

It said key areas which are not being addressed under current development plans include housing and planning.

Ireland's target for 2020 to reduce greenhouse emissions by 20pc - compared with 2005 levels - could fall short and reach just 5pc instead.

One key recommendation is that the carbon tax should be increased to €35 per tonne in Budget 2020, and then be raised further to at least €80 per tonne by 2030.

The council has also advised that tenants who may be displaced if a landlord is required to carry out energy upgrades should be compensated.

The review describes this particular aspect of upgrades as a concern and not ideal.

"The Government may need to consider compensation for tenants as part of any proposed grant scheme, such as temporary housing," it said.

"Further, existing regulations permit landlords to raise rent (or evict tenants) to undertake significant upgrades to a dwelling."

It said "significant upgrades" are not clearly defined. "The council recommends that Government considers including requirements to improve energy efficiency as a component of a 'significant upgrade'," it added.

The issue is described as "complex" but the council says it can address the housing crisis and energy efficiency.

Irish Independent

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