Given the enormous role that farming plays in the Irish economy, contributing billions every year and around 10pc of exports, it’s a sector that will be front and centre for any national sustainability targets. The Government’s current Climate Action Plan aims to reduce emissions from agriculture by 25pc, meaning that farms across the country are making use of new technologies, practices, and standards to improve the environmental sustainability of Irish agriculture.
“The Irish farming sector has invested significant time and resources in adopting sustainable practices and Irish farmers are greatly aware of their responsibility towards the environment.
“In a survey conducted with our farmer members late last year, 83pc said that they had already made changes to reduce emissions on their farms while 86pc were willing to make further changes in the future,” Origin Green Standard Coordinator Damien Murray said.
It's a nationwide effort, and progress is being tracked every step of the way. Set up in 2017, the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) is an accredited national standard for Irish beef and sheep farming. Under the scheme, which is part of the national Origin Green sustainability programme, hundreds of audits are carried out on farms every week.
Following their audit, farmers receive a detailed farm sustainability report. The report provides farmers with their carbon footprint, using an accredited carbon footprint model developed by Teagasc.
What makes the report so valuable for farmers is that it shows which specific farm activities (e.g. fertiliser use, manure, animal digestion,) emit the most carbon. This allows farmers to make informed decisions on what actions to take to reduce those numbers, either by working with their farm advisor or by interpreting the data and advice in the report themselves.
When it comes to sustainability, proof is essential. Being able to provide data that both outlines the progress made and future commitments, demonstrates to customers that Irish beef and lamb are produced sustainably.
“Irish meat and dairy has a strong reputation among global buyers for quality and sustainability. This reputation has been built up over many years and gives us a distinct competitive advantage in our export markets.
“Through the aggregated data gathered during the audit, Bord Bia can provide proof to these global customers of the sustainability credentials of Irish beef, lamb and dairy. However, it is important that we continue to evolve farm sustainability in-line with the demands of the markets and the Climate Action Plan.
“Furthermore, reducing overall emissions reduction from agriculture will be essential to safeguard Ireland’s reputation as a sustainable food producer,” Damien said.
Becoming a more sustainable business not only has a positive impact on reputation and emissions, but can in turn benefit the business’ bottom line as well, as Damien explains.
“An increasing number of Irish farmers are recognising that improved sustainability practices are good for business too. Sustainable production and efficient production go hand in hand.
“Farm sustainability involves minimising the number of resources like fertiliser and feed, as well as implementing measures that enhance the environmental performance of those farms. Some of these measures can deliver economic benefits through the lower costs of production,” Damien said.
Reaching the 25pc reduction in emissions under the Climate Action Plan will require the adoption of new technologies. As well as that, it will require the implementation of existing farm sustainability measures such as switching to protected urea or using low emission slurry spreading.
“In terms of responsibility, aside from commitments made under the Climate Action Plan, farmers themselves are clear on their responsibilities to safeguard the land. In a previous survey of farmers members, Bord Bia found that 96pc of farmers feel responsible for protecting the future of the land they farm for the next generation,” Damien added.
One of the latest initiatives to come from the Department of Agriculture, as part of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), is the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP). The programme is designed to improve sustainability in suckler beef herds.
Membership of Bord Bia’s SBLAS is mandatory for those joining the programme, as the carbon footprint – calculated as part of the audit – is required.
This mandatory requirement will lead to an increase in farmers joining the SBLAS. For new joiners, there may be misconceptions about what is required of them, under the Bord Bia scheme and as part of the audit process.
“Farmers are sometimes of the opinion that if they join Bord Bia, there will be much more work involved in running their farm, or that it will be costly, more time consuming with extra paperwork required of them.
“In fact, most farmers are doing an awful lot of what is required for SBLAS already without realising it and have nothing to fear from a Bord Bia audit. The audit is arranged at a time and date that suits both the farmer and the auditor giving them plenty of notice and time to prepare,” Damien said.
Bord Bia wants to reassure farmers that may be apprehensive of joining the new SCEP because of the mandatory SBLAS requirement that the inspection is not something farmers should be fearful of.
“The SBLAS is conducted using a closeout model which means if a non-compliance is raised at the time of the audit they don’t fail, they have a period of time that they can rectify the issue raised, provide evidence of this post audit and still become certified. The Bord Bia helpdesk is on hand to help the farmer closeout and they are available from 9am to 8pm, Monday to Friday.
“Farmers can text, email or post evidence to the helpdesk who will assist with closeout or farmers can closeout themselves by logging onto farm.bordbia.ie. Farmers can also nominate a representative such as a son or daughter, or neighbour, who can assist them during this process, which helps those who may not be able to do so themselves,” Damien said.
The Bord Bia helpdesk is also available pre audit to answer any questions the farmer may have on any part of the audit process or to help the farmer complete the Sustainability Survey over the phone pre audit.
Farmers who apply for the SCEP will need to become certified Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) members. Those interested in the SCEP are urged to take action now and contact Bord Bia to join the SBLAS.
Call the Bord Bia Helpdesk today. The Helpdesk will explain the requirements of the SBLAS, take applications and help you to prepare for your audit.