Expanding Irish agriculture 'poses climate challenge'

Grain auger of combine pouring soy bean into tractor trailer

Paul Melia

Expanding Irish agriculture to meet ambitious Government targets will pose serious challenges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help limit climate change.

Agriculture will make up almost half of all emissions (45.6pc) by 2020, if Government targets to boost food and drink exports by 85pc to €19bn a year are realised.

And the country is "one of the most exposed in the world" and will have a "serious problem" if targets to reduce emissions are "ill-conceived", president of the RDS Matt Dempsey has warned.

He said it was possible to boost output while facing up to responsibilities.

"We can't hide our heads in the sand. It's important we get this right," he said.

"We want to promote awareness of the key issues in an informed way, rather than by empty slogans backed up by dubious facts.

"We want to communicate solutions. By facing up to these challenges, Ireland will be better placed to realise opportunities and face up to our responsibilities. Enlightened self-interest can be a powerful motivating force."

Mr Dempsey was speaking at a Leadership Forum on Climate-Smart Agriculture held in Dublin, organised by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) and RDS.

It aims to draw leaders from the farming sector, agri-business, NGOs and State agencies to determine the best way to increase production while reducing the environmental impact of the sector.


A survey shows that 86pc of respondents believe Ireland could become a world leader in this area, but there are concerns that increasing output will result in higher emissions.

Around one-third of Ireland's 58.29 million tonnes of carbon produced in 2013 came from the agriculture sector, or 19.04 million tonnes.

By 2020, we are projected to produce 60.70 million tonnes, with 19.49 million tonnes from the agri-food sector.

But one of the country's biggest food processors, Glanbia, said that becoming more sustainable would result in farmers making more money.

"Better use of slurry and fertilisers, water and energy reduce the costs involved in production of farm produce," director of strategy Sean Molloy said.

"The opportunity exists for us to grow market share. We are recognised not just for the product, but for the quality of the environment in which that product is produced.

"We have 5,000 farmers supplying us, and it's important they get a fair return on their product."

The forum heard that Ireland enjoyed a number of competitive advantages, including a developed agri-food sector, "highly supportive" Government structure and was already among the most efficient producers.

However, there has been criticism of the failure of Government to address the climate impacts of ramping up food production, and in particular refusing to consider reducing the size of the national herd.