Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Reduction of Carbon Emissions of 51% by 2030: Discussion (Resumed)

Mr. Shane Fitzgerald:

I thank Mr. Keane. To give the committee a bit of background information about myself, I am a dairy farmer in County Waterford. It could be called an intensive part of the country from a dairy point of view. My dad and I are in partnership but our farm is part of the Glanbia-Teagasc future farm programme. We are adapting all the latest technologies that Mr. Keane has mentioned there, including the MACC, the protected urea, the low-emission slurry spreading, clover and all of that. We are adopting all that. We are a hub of this new signpost programme. I suppose the committee has heard of it before. There are 100 farms taking part in it, between dairy, beef and sheep. It is going to stream out to all the discussion groups as well from the 100 signpost farms. One might look at it like spokes of a wheel. There are the monitor farms in the middle which are in the future farm programme, the Signpost farms outside that and then the discussion groups outside that. From the dairy point of view there are 18,000 farmers branching off that again so it is all knowledge transfer. All these carbon mitigation and climate mitigation strategies will be implemented and we will try to transfer it out to all farms because while it is okay if the top 10% or 20% of young progressive farmers do it, It is important that everyone does it.

There has to be a whole industry approach. That is what makes the signpost programme so good. It should make a real change.

Mr. Keane mentioned that there are targets to reduce the CO2 equivalent per kilogram of fat and protein corrected milk to 0.7 kg or lower than what it is in New Zealand. It is 1.3 kg on our farm at the moment. Having done some analysis and figures, we have found that if we reduce the use of chemical fertiliser by 20% and use all protected urea on the farm, we could reach that target.

In biodiversity we are trying to achieve targets of 10% across all farms. On our farm we already have 18% biodiversity according to studies that have been done. We are trying to show that these technologies work on farms and to make sure that people adapt them. It is important that young people are involved in this process. Generational renewal cannot be emphasised enough when it comes to this area. We are most likely to adapt to change and, as has been shown over the years, we will adapt to change faster than older people no matter what is involved. Younger people will adapt more quickly and be proactive. They are progressive and educated.

I will touch on other ways to increase our carbon sequestration and Dr. Moore's points on forestry. The first step has to be to manage and maintain the quality of the hedgerows and habitats we already have on farms. A significant amount of flora and fauna are already on farms, but they are not currently being looked after sufficiently. Simple measures that we will be doing on our farms as part of the future farm programme include moving fences out 1.5 m from hedgerows and keeping pesticides and fertiliser away from hedgerows. They are small changes but can have a huge impact on the overall level of biodiversity on farms without having to create new habitats. The foundation for habitats in respect of environmental sustainability is to maintain, retain, create and enhance. We have to maintain and enhance the existing habitats before we try to create new ones. That is key.

Previous measures as part of the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, asked us to plant new hedgerows but at the same time people were cutting their hedgerows into a box shape which does not make sense. We have to be incentivised to do these things. That is key. These indicators have gone the wrong way over time. It did not happen overnight and it will take time for things to go the other way. I often say that in my father's time he would have been given a grant or incentivised to remove hedgerows but it is now going to be the other way around. Things happen in cycles. We need time. As I said, the importance of generational renewal cannot be over emphasised, whether it is water quality, biodiversity or emissions overall. We need to be supported on that.


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