Environment Minister Eamon Ryan has insisted no farmer will be forced to reduce or cull their cattle herds as talks to reduce agriculture emissions by up to 30pc continued.
Negotiations between Mr Ryan, the Green Party leader, and Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue concluded yesterday without agreement on ambitious targets for emissions reductions by the sector.
However, Mr Ryan moved last night to quell ongoing fears among the farming lobby and Coalition backbenchers that he wants a forced reduction or even a cull of the national herd by insisting farmers will be “paid well” to change to more sustainable practices.
“As more farmers switch to these viable alternatives by choosing to use more of their land for energy production or storage they may find that they do not have the requirement for the same number of animals.
“Any change in animal numbers will happen naturally, and will not be forced,” he told the Irish Independent.
He said that reducing carbon emissions across the economy would be done in a way that enhances farm incomes and protects the Irish family farm.
“We will provide farmers with the opportunity to diversify and strengthen their incomes by producing clean, sustainable food along with clean, sustainable energy at a premium price,” he said.
“With supports, farmers can engage in anaerobic digestion, where grass or slurry is used to produce homegrown gas that is sold into the grid.
“They can use their skills and knowledge for small-scale forestry planting, such as planting along rivers or rewetting lands to capture carbon.”
Discussions over the contentious agriculture emissions ceiling will continue in the coming days, with Government sources last night insisting that talks were “constructive’’.
It is still anticipated there will be agreement next week on how sector-by-sector reductions can meet the target of a 51pc cut in emissions by 2030.
Mr McConalogue is under pressure from the farming lobby and backbenchers in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to agree to emissions reductions of only 22pc over the remainder of the decade while Mr Ryan wants emissions reductions of 30pc.