Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Climate Change Issues: Discussion
The first matter on the agenda is the issues concerning climate change. Before I begin I ask members and witnesses to ensure that their mobile phones are completely turned off.
I welcome from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Bill Callanan, assistant secretary general and chief inspector, Mr. Jack Nolan, senior inspector, Mr. Eugene Hendrick, senior inspector and Mr. Vincent Upton, inspector. I thank them for coming before the committee to brief it on matters surrounding climate change. The committee is of the view that there are opportunities for us to explore the relationship between Irish agriculture and its impact on the environment, aspects relating to forestry, food security, and other areas that the Department think will be of interest to the committee on that matter.
I draw the attention of the witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I ask Mr. Callanan to make his opening statement, please.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
I thank the committee for this invitation to address it on issues related to what is probably one of the most serious issues of our time, namely, climate change.
I will begin by setting out the long-term policy vision for the agriculture and land use sector which is an approach to carbon neutrality that does not compromise the capacity for sustainable food production. Protecting food production is a serious matter given the rise in world population, but balancing this production with protecting the environment is equally important. Balancing these needs is recognised in the European Council conclusions of October 2014 which refer to the need to ensure coherence between the EU's food security and climate change objectives.
Environmental sustainability is at the heart of agrifood policy with Food Wise 2025 clearly stating: “Environmental protection and economic competitiveness are equal and complementary: one cannot be achieved at the expense of the other.”
This reflects the reality of a market demand for sustainability in our food offering to the national and international market, a societal demand for a clean environment, as set out in environmental regulations and what is a very competitive food market internationally. We are very aware that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture accounts for a third of our national emissions but the context here should also be considered. This figure reflects the importance of agriculture to the Irish economy, the significance of an efficient grass-based livestock industry and Ireland’s lack of heavy industry.
Nevertheless, we are not complacent and are taking a number of steps to promote efficiency of food production, enhance sequestration of carbon, and mobilise biomaterials and residues to displace fossil fuel and other energy intensive materials such as promoting a wider use of wood products in the built environment and elsewhere.
The agrifood sector has already done a lot and indeed has decoupled sector growth from gross emissions. This achievement has been delivered as a result of continued research, advances in animal genetics, health and nutrition, and through optimising the use of fertilisers.
Nitrogen is now more efficiently used through improved manure management and soil fertility. The nitrates action programme helps in this regard and contains measures to protect surface waters and groundwater from agricultural sources.
Improving breeding and maintaining the health of livestock is very important to achieving efficiency and managing emissions. This is actively supported through our beef data and genomics programme. This world first national programme ranks the efficiency of beef breeding animals on a star based system, with five stars being the most efficient rank. On the dairy side, the introduction of the economic breeding index, EBI, is identifying the most efficient animals for a grass based production system. As of January 2017, the top herd EBI is €182 in the best 200 herds, which is 40% above the average herd.
Through the targeted agri-investment programme, we are supporting the introduction of more efficient manure application techniques such as trailing shoe, which improves the efficiency of manure as a fertiliser.
Under the agri-environment scheme, GLAS, which has 50,000 farmer members, specific measures are included to support climate change objectives, while our organic farming scheme supports organic farming as an alternative farming system, contributing to improving soil quality and mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The scheme has been very successful since its launch, attracting 1,264 applications.
In terms of sequestration or the capturing of carbon, our most significant intervention is the national afforestation programme, which features ambitious targets to support the increase in planting to more than 8,000 ha per annum in 2020 and achieving forest cover of 18% by 2050. This is a significant programme nationally and is recognised as a key element of our ambition to address climate change. As energy efficiency on farms rises, renewable energy sources have become more viable. These sources include both bio-energy and biofuels.
As a result of the afforestation scheme, roundwood production in Ireland is expected to double by 2035, with almost all of the increase coming from private grant-aided forests. Forest based biomass, including forestry and timber processing residues and post-consumer wood, is also forecast to double during this period to more than 4 million cu. m, capable of producing 29 million GJ of energy. The continuation of afforestation levels and mobilisation of the private forest resource will be key to achieving these forecasts and maintaining a sustainable biomass supply into the future. The forest road scheme provides grant aid to forest owners to allow access to forests for first thinning and harvesting, which is an essential first step in mobilising wood for the market.
It is also worth noting that agriculture is different from other sectors in that it is the only sector that can sequester emissions through forests and land use. Our grasslands are a significant carbon pool, especially peat rich soils, while well managed grasslands on mineral soils take up and store carbon. In addition, the contribution of our forests to climate mitigation is threefold, encompassing the sequestration of carbon, the replacement of energy intensive materials and the provision of sustainable biomass to the energy sector. All three activities are supported under the afforestation programme.
The Department has contributed to the national mitigation plan. In conjunction with others in this area, we have included 30 actions to advance our emission reduction obligation. The Department has also published an adaptation planning document which recognised that the impacts of climate change on agriculture are significant.
There is no doubt that, as a country, we face major challenges in meeting our emission targets and more will have to be done to meet them. The agriculture sector is committed to playing its part in achieving this. We should not lose sight of the multiple objectives of the agriculture and land use sector and its role in contributing to a vibrant rural economy.
I thank Mr. Callanan for his presentation. He made a number of points on forestry, an area on which I will focus. Restrictions apply to the planting of forestry on hen harrier designated land. While this land is well suited to planting forestry, a blanket ban on planting applies. Furthermore, farmers who wish to plant unenclosed land must balance this by planting enclosed land, with a ratio of 1:4 between the former and latter. This, too, is a major barrier to achieving targets for plantations. Farmers would much prefer to farm land that is suitable for forestry. The restrictions applied to land suited to planting forestry are hindering us from meeting our targets.
Bord na Móna, a semi-State company, has plans to import timber from the United States to be used here in the production of biomass. I am baffled as to the reason this plan can be considered as a means of addressing climate change. It is inconceivable that a semi-State company such as Bord na Móna would invest €60 million in the United States to transport wood on the high seas to be burned here in fuel production. If we are serious about climate change, surely a home grown solution is necessary.
Mr. Callanan referred to the role thinnings must play in achieving our targets. I was contacted recently by a private contractor with seven or eight employees who does not have a market for thinnings. He cannot find a customer willing to buy 4,000 tonnes of thinnings for timber pulp. If we are serious about forestry playing a role in meeting our climate change targets, issues such as this must be addressed. Coillte and Bord na Móna appear to want a monopoly in the forestry sector and to force private operators out of it. A coherent policy will be needed if we are to achieve our targets. Outlets must be available to private operators producing timber.
Our method of food production will stand up to scrutiny when compared with the methods employed in the rest of Europe. We would come out on top on every aspect of food production in any such comparison. The more research that is done on the cost of producing a litre of milk or a kilogram of beef, the more evidence we will find that our production systems are more sustainable than indoor systems.
Much more needs to be done on the forestry side, especially with regard to land that is suitable for planting, but a little common sense must prevail. Our semi-State companies must realise that the private sector also has a part to play in this regard. The absence of a market for thinnings is creating a bad feeling on the ground and deterring people from planting forestry. This issue must be addressed if we are to achieve our targets.
I thank the witnesses for their attendance and thank Mr. Callanan for his presentation. I note Mr. Callanan's point that the fact that agriculture produces one third of our greenhouse gas emissions reflects the importance of agriculture in the economy. It is easy to say one third of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture but where do we rank in respect of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture when compared with other countries with a similar land mass or population? I imagine we are relatively low in the ranking, although I am not certain about that. Transport is also responsible for a significant proportion of our greenhouse gas emissions.
It has been suggested that the beef data genomics scheme is an improvement. Certainly, the life of animals is shortened as they are sent for slaughter at an earlier age, thus reducing the time they spend polluting the atmosphere. This is really what the scheme is about.
I am frequently told that we will end up with a poorer quality beef animal as a result of the beef data genomics scheme.
We are moving away from the continental breeds to other breeds and changing the way it traditionally has been done in Ireland. An additional 10,000 animals are killed every year. The figure is growing all the time and how will that work in the future?
I refer to the beef data genomic programme and other schemes, including the targeted agricultural modernisation schemes, TAMS, to try to find more efficient application of manure. Is any effort being made to consider biodigesters and ways of removing the gases before using the fertiliser? Given that is prevalent in other countries, why is that not an option for Ireland?
I attended a meeting in County Leitrim last week about afforestation. Farmers are very worried that there is more land being planted with trees around them and that they cannot buy it. We have had that discussion on trying to define the problem. One point that comes up is monoculture, in that we plant all the same species of tree, namely, Sitka spruce. We plant them by the hundreds of thousands and nothing else. Most people will tell one that from an ecological perspective, one must have a mix to sustain wildlife and we do not have that in general. The same species of tree is being grown everywhere because an industry has grown to service the Sitka spruce plantations and there are methods for easy extraction, transport and processing of that type of timber. I take on board Deputy Cahill's point about land that is suitable for forestry, and when one travels through north Leitrim, as I did yesterday, one could say what else could one do with that land? The issue is that people live in Leitrim and they want to continue to live there and farm that land. They want to be supported to do that. Yet, we find that the only option is to use the land to plant trees, which ultimately pushes the people out. That is the reality unless we do something. As for land in areas of natural constraint, ANC, unless we do something to help the people who live in those areas to use the land productively - other than by planting them - we may as well simply lock the doors on all those small towns and villages because nobody will want to come to live in the middle of forestry. To avail of grants for afforestation, at present the regulations state that when one plants the land, one must ensure that the land will be replanted when the trees are finally cut. That means it is a permanent change of land use and the land will never revert to farming again. That is something that goes against the grain of the vast majority of rural people in Ireland. One is just closing down the land.
Another impact of coniferous afforestation that we seeing is the increasing acidification of the landscape and the rivers. A person who works in the National Parks and Wildlife Service has told me that every October, the trees release highly acidic sap back into the soil, which gets washed into our rivers and lakes where it is killing fish and other things in the rivers. There are other effects of afforestation with which we need to deal; it is not just about the farming community taking the hump because people are buying the land in their area. We need to recognise that there must be other ways of dealing with land use. At that meeting, people spoke about agriforestry. In other countries farmers plant portions of their land but do not plant it densely. It is planted in a way that the cattle and sheep can graze underneath the trees. It is a mix of both farming and forestry and the trees help to dry the land. Are such options possible? Another option that was also mentioned was biomass. Deputy Cahill is quite correct to raise the ridiculousness of the idea of importing biomass from other countries to fuel what used to be our peat stations. People with marginal land must have the option to grow some of this biomass, which would be a shorter-term crop that can be grown and harvested and which will give employment and keep people working the land, as they will have some stake in it. Is there any sign of subsidies to ensure that can happen? From my understanding, having spoken to people who came before the committee on this matter, we have been told it is not feasible unless the Government steps up to the mark and supports the production of biomass. Will anything happen in that respect? All we hear about biomass is that the peat plants will be changed to biomass plants but there is no sign of where the biomass will come from or who will pay for this.
We all seek the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and a greener way to produce products but unless we are prepared as a society to put up the money to make it happen, it is only talk. I would be interested in the views of the committee on this.
I welcome the opening statement of the chief inspector, Mr. Bill Callanan. His statement on climate change is very positive. I concur with 99% of what he stated. I believe there is a balance between a carbon-neutral society and our ability to produce food on productive land. He went through many of the key issues, including the beef data genomic programme, the economic breeding index, EBIs, and where we are going as a society.
Statements have been made in the media and in public forums such as the Citizen's Assembly, for example, expressing views that are in deep contrast to what Mr. Callanan stated today. The statement by Professor Alan Matthews from Trinity College to the Citizen's Assembly is very much at odds with what we have heard here today. In a statement, and I am open to be corrected, he staid that we would be better off if we reduced our beef output and farmers would be more productive if they were to draw down the single farm payment. That would go against my ethos and that of many people in this room because farmers like to produce food. Farmers like to work the land and being proactive. It is a topic of a generation. Not alone is it a topic for discussion, it is a decision of a generation. That is why Mr. Callanan's statement is very comforting to farmers and the farming community but we need to have that debate as well. Professor Alan Matthew's statement is the exact opposite in that he seeks to curtail farming, to stop the agricultural sector developing and in many ways he going against the European policies and the Food Wise 2025 strategy, which Mr. Callanan outlined in his presentation.
Will Mr. Callanan comment on the conflict between his opening statement and that of Professor Alan Matthews to the Citizen's Assembly? The view the Citizen's Assembly took is also tied into it and that needs to be clearly rectified. The views of the Department and this committee could add to a greater understanding of the issues.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
Chairman, I will deal with a number of the issues and I then propose to hand it over to my colleague, Dr. Eugene Hendrick, to deal with the issues on forestry.
I acknowledge Deputy Jackie Cahill's contribution and I confirm his assertion that the food production system in Ireland stands up to scrutiny externally. I assure him it does. It is well recognised, particularly in livestock systems, that a rain-fed grass-based production system is well regarded and is particularly efficient. At European level, Ireland's production system is recognised as the most efficient from a dairy perspective and fifth most efficient from a beef production perspective compared with our European partners. The grazing system is well recognised as being particularly efficient, especially where there is not a need for irrigation and so on. We do not have such difficulties.
There are a number of issues in terms of afforestation but in respect of the hen harrier, there are multiple ambitions for the agricultural sector, including food production, but also maintaining a very strong and healthy environment. That is necessary in terms of Ireland being able to communicate our responsibility in food production externally and internationally.
The hen harrier is identified as one of the very vulnerable species in our environment and its numbers have been in decline. Arising from that and as a consequence, measures have been taken to protect that species. It is similar in terms of the focus in the agri-environmental schemes and we have become much more focused in terms of ensuring the objectives of the national biodiversity plan are delivered upon.
I refer to Deputy Martin Kenny's concerns about the percentage of emissions from agriculture.
Of developed countries, Ireland is only surpassed by New Zealand in terms of the percentage of emissions that emanate from agriculture. We are an outlier in that respect in Europe because of the absence of heavy industry here. The majority of European countries are only in single digits in terms of the contribution of agriculture to their overall emissions.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
In total, yes. However, agriculture accounts for a very small percentage of their gross emissions.
I do not agree that the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, leads to a poorer quality beef animal. The fundamental issue that arises in the suckler herd is that at a gross level approximately eight calves are produced for every ten cows or an 80% calving rate. Many animals do not calve at 24 months, which is the optimal time in terms of efficiency and so on. BDGP recognises that and identifies cows that have good fertility numbers, produce a live calf every year and are delivering more efficient calves that have a higher weight at weaning and are ready for earlier slaughter and so on. BDGP is creating a far more efficient meat production process. Some 30,000 farmers are taking part in the scheme and it is very significant.
There are approximately 20 biodigesters in the country. The area is not as developed as it is in other countries and further development is contingent on the rate of returns for renewable heat and so on, as the committee heard previously.
There were several questions regarding agroforestry which I will leave for Mr. Hendrick to address.
In terms of the point made by Senator Lombard in regard to welcoming the positive statement from the Citizens' Assembly, I have seen the presentation, outcomes and recommendations but that recommendation and report will go to the Oireachtas for discussion and debate and then feed back to the various Departments in terms of endorsement or rejection, etc. I would be loath to give my viewpoint in that regard. We will see what emerges in terms of the final recommendation and report which will in due course go to the Oireachtas.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
I thank members for their questions. Deputy Cahill asked about the hen harrier. A hen harrier threat response plan is currently being worked on by the forest service and the National Parks and Wildlife Service and discussions are ongoing in that regard.
As regards the 4:1 ratio between enclosed and unenclosed land, work on the potential for unenclosed land to be used for afforestation has recently been carried out and published by Teagasc. A proposal to consider another way to approach the issue of unenclosed land is currently under discussion in the Department and with the European Commission but has not been decided upon.
Regarding the importation of biomass from the United States and so on, our goal in the forestry sector is to mobilise as much material as we can from the national forest estate, be that private or publically owned. Our opening statement outlined that there is the potential for 4 million cu. m of biomass from forests in Ireland to provide material for energy generation, be that heat or combined heat and power. Most of our effort is focused on that. Approximately 1 million cu. m of material for energy is currently being produced. We are trying to mobilise an additional 3 million cu. m between now and 2035. It is a very good business opportunity and a good model for local farmers and landowners.
I was not aware of the difficulty raised by Deputy Cahill in respect of the private contractor who cannot find a customer willing to buy 4,000 tonnes of thinnings for timber pulp. There are outlets available to private operators producing timber but we are working hard with the sector to develop local markets for forestry material such as stake wood, larger size material, sawn logs and energy wood. Much work is being done in that area. We are trying to encourage private sector involvement in sales as much as possible in terms of getting the material to market and developing the private sector. I do not know if members are aware of a report called Mobilising Ireland's Forest Resource. It was authored by the Coford Wood Mobilisation Group which considered many issues in respect of the mobilisation of wood from public and private sector forests and has made many recommendations. Much work is being carried out on implementing those findings and much has been done. For example, a forecast tool is now available on the Department website that enables any person to forecast the fellability of wood, whether it is energy wood, sawn timber or pulp wood, in any region of the country. It is specifically geared toward identifying potential resources and supply to come on stream in the coming years. The forecast goes up to 2035 and can be used by potential investors.
Deputy Martin Kenny asked about monoculture. The current target of forest policy is 70% conifer and 30% broadleaf. All plantations established now must have 15% of the total area allocated to biodiversity enhancement and must provide for mixed forest. One cannot get grant aid for a monoculture. If one wants to receive a grant, one must put in additional species, either through intimate mixtures or parts of the existing forest.
Deputy Kenny raised the issue that once an area is afforested, people cannot farm the land thereafter. There are several very good reasons for land having to be replanted when trees are finally cut down following afforestation in terms of timber supply and climate change because once that carbon is sequestered, the assumption is that it will stay in the forest indefinitely. If one starts to deforest those areas, that carbon will be released into the atmosphere. It is very important to try to maintain the forest cover we have in order that our targets are achieved in terms of our expectations relating to the forest we grant aid. There is an agroforestry measure available under the afforestation scheme for people to plant trees and they then can run sheep or possibly cattle in those areas provided protection is used for the trees and so on.
The forest service takes potential pollution extremely seriously and there is much guidance available on forest establishment, silt traps, setbacks from streams, the composition of the forest and so on. Much is being done in that regard. Afforestation grant aid is contingent on those setbacks and other measures being met in regard to potential sediment and so on that may come from a forest at afforestation stage. One will not be granted aid unless one meets the various criteria and there is much guidance in that regard.
Regarding the supply side generally, the Sitka spruce we plant is an excellent timber and can be used for a range of applications, as I am sure members are aware. It can be used to manufacture boards and stakes and as structural timber. The main goal of afforestation through spruce plantations is to grow structural timber. It is made into C16, which is structural timber, for use in the Irish or export market. We have a very large and dynamic export market in the UK for Irish timber and it has been a great success story for sawmills to get into that market.
Deputy Cahill raised the issue of the import of biomass and so on. We in the forest sector are focused on providing the means, policies and measures to exploit our existing resource. We have a biomass supply chain.
On the last occasion I was here we spoke about support for the costings of the biomass supply chain and wood energy developments. I have mentioned the forecasting tool we use to advise people on the supply of the indigenous markets. There is a lot going on in that space and there is huge potential to increase the level of harvest and support rural development and jobs in rural areas.
I draw members' attention to a chart among the documents supplied. Deputy Martin Kenny asked about the percentage and how we compared to other countries. If one looks through the chart it can be seen that Ireland was on 30.8% from 2015, which is an increase from 26.2%. This relates to agriculture's emissions as a percentage of all sectors, including indirect CO2. Agriculture's emissions rose from 26.22% to 30.8% in 2015. The country nearest to us in that regard is Latvia on 23.52%. I presume those figures are correct and that the witnesses know them off the tops of their heads. Lithuania is on 22.61% and Denmark is on 20.2%. We appear to be quite far ahead of the posse from that point of view, in terms of emissions from agriculture. Is that correct?
Mr. Jack Nolan:
Yes, definitely. The committee should know that since 2015 we have increased milk output by 13.5%, whereas emissions have only increased by 1.6%. Massive efficiency gains are happening at the moment. Latvia and Lithuania are similar countries to ourselves. Transport contributes significantly, but as was said in the opening statement, agricultural emissions are unusually high here. We are a rural based country that does not really have heavy industry. At the moment we are developing more efficient agriculture. We have 137,000 carbon footprints which have been prepared by Bord Bia over the last number of years and 24.5 million pieces of information on beef herds which we are using to try to help farmers to become more efficient. At the conference of parties in Bonn at the moment, gaining in efficiency is being recognised as one of the ways forward for agriculture. Ireland is leading the way in climate-smart farming. It is not just about numbers, but also about how efficiently we can produce.
Mr. Jack Nolan:
That is with the exception of the indoor herds that were mentioned earlier. In the North there are more indoor herds than here. There is higher input and higher output in the North. We are producing on grass. This is the year of sustainable grassland, as established by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and we are trying to get farmers to utilise grass more efficiently because there is more profit for Irish farmers in doing so.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. It was very informative and very useful. The essence of agricultural production is to produce in a healthy and clean environment. In terms of our sectoral interests we are heavily focussed on producing from grass. Teagasc is holding a number of seminars and symposiums focussing on that issue and discussing how that can be increased. This has been a singular focus for the industry, in conjunction with the incentives provided by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine at State level. It focusses on greater efficiency. Bord Bia has introduced Origin Green, and there has been the development of smart farming techniques along with technological advances.
A lot of work has been going on, notwithstanding the fact that many people seem to focus on the agricultural industry as a major source of our national greenhouse gas emissions. It appears to be somewhat misinformed. In order to rebuff some of the misinformed comments about greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural industry, do we have the ability to produce a comprehensive database to show that what has been done at farm level, the policy measures level and the objectives that have been set out, implemented and achieved and the reductions that have been seen across the sectors? The beef genomics scheme was mentioned. I am a very strong proponent of that scheme. It leads to greater efficiency and better production levels, and I know farmers who are gaining from it. Is it the ambition of the EU to change the role and focus of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, so that it becomes carbon production neutral in nature? I have no doubt that we can set out to achieve a carbon neutral objective which can be aligned with achieving sustainable food production.
The world's population is projected to rise to 9 billion people in a few years time. Food is needed. There is a deficit of food all over the world. If we stall the horse at this level and revert back, notwithstanding the levels of efficiency, productivity and technological advancement that will undoubtedly emerge over the next number of years, with smart farming etc., it will be very difficult to achieve. There will be massive food imbalances, with deficits likely to arise. Do I perceive the European Commission setting out individual targets at EU level for each sector and that countries in the EU would set similar targets?
Opportunity has been missed in forestry, and I blame Coillte for that. I have relatives who worked in that body. Many people have been let go from it. Places have been left without being replanted for a long time. They had men there who worked from 8 o'clock in the morning to 5 o'clock in the evening who knew their job, planting, thinning, spraying, maintenance and weeding. They have lost an opportunity.
I am not saying anything to the witnesses that I have not said to a Member that I started out with, Deputy Lowry. I had many a clash with him over this issue. We are now playing catch-up. I have read the host of new documents that have been provided. I had good reason to read them because I am working on something in the forestry area for a book. The documents are very helpful and well set out. They are very helpful. I can see that Coillte is stuck at 6,000 or 6,500 acres when it should have had 8,000 ha a decade ago. We are now playing catch-up. Forestry is the best place to sequester carbon and to lock it in and gain carbon credits.
I have been on this committee for so long that I will be made statutory in the near future, but I have been consistent in my view that Coillte has missed an opportunity. The private sector's role has been acknowledged recently, and it is important that the private sector are involved. I respect Deputy Martin Kenny's viewpoint. My constituency is near Leitrim and I have heard the concerns that people have that the forestry industry might be taken over by corporations. Coillte is trying to encourage individual farmers to plant, and that is a good thing, but it should not become a corporate magnet. Corporations will always get in, as indeed will pension funds, particularly if there is a bit of profit to be had in something. That is the nature of the beast. It is important that there is an outlet for what comes out and that we are not engaging in a displacement policy by importing timber. The one thing we should not be importing is timber. We have a good climate and lots of land. There is crossover between Coillte and Bord na Móna. Bord na Móna has 220,000 acres of cutaway bog.
There is no need to be getting too excited about going in and grabbing good land. All sorts of marginal land can also be used in various ways. There is a great deal of potential there and I would advocate that the State would encourage to the Department to get more involved. There are lots of opportunities to plant more trees. Let us get Bord na Móna involved and let us have no more of this nonsense. Those involved can actually solve the problems themselves. I am aware that there is a huge time lag and that is why ten or 12 years ago I said that the boat was going out and there was nobody calling a halt. It was just a rush to get rid of people and get it into private hands. That was it but thankfully we have put a stop to that. It is now safe to hear that it is a semi-State company. There is huge potential in it and the Department is playing a good role, from what I have read, by means of grants, road schemes and so on. I still believe, however, that we have a lot of catching up to do.
Forestry will play a huge role in ensuring that Ireland can continue production in agriculture. We have to play a role and cannot be agnostic about this. As we have seen from recent events, we cannot be blind to reality. Figures have been read to the committee and while it is going in the right direction, it needs to be accelerated in order to achieve what is required. It is important that people are not allowed to make comments that may be misinformed or misguided. It is essential that the committee sends out a message to the effect that the agriculture industry is extremely important. When there is nothing else in rural areas, it is no use someone sitting in an ivory tower saying that a sector should be cast adrift because those areas will be left with nothing. This is particularly relevant in the context of good food production, in respect of which Ireland has, thankfully, secured an A plus status. I hope we will continue to make progress in that regard.
I welcome the officials from the Department and thank them for their presentation. I would like to hear their opinions on what role the tillage sector can play in our efforts to achieve targets to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. As we are all aware, this committee has just completed a report on the future of the tillage sector and the crisis in which it finds itself as a result of the mass exodus of people out of the sector. When farmers leave the tillage sector, they invariably go into dairy or beef production. This does not help the cause of emissions reductions.
As a result of world prices, the lack of incentives in Ireland and farmers not seeing any viability in the sector, we are now in a situation whereby we import a large portion of our animal feed grain and barley from Russia and other places. While this may not be an Irish problem per sein the context of our targets and numbers, transporting a tonne of feed barley from Russia by road, rail and sea compared with it being produced in Ireland must have an enormous effect on emissions globally. I would like to hear how we might reverse the trend of people exiting the tillage sector in order that this might have a positive impact in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how we might incentivise farmers to remain in the sector and produce, for example, energy crops, rather than their leaving and going into dairy or beef production. If this could be achieved, it would be a double advantage.
I was very disappointed with the Citizens' Assembly recommendation regarding fines. That is entirely the wrong way to address the issue. We need to be realistic. When we consider the data, we see that Ireland undoubtedly has the highest figure in the EU for greenhouses gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects our economic structure. In fairness, and as the officials have stated, we never had an industrial base in the State. The industrial base on this island prior to partition was in Belfast but such a base never developed in this State. We have been heavily reliant upon agriculture and ruminant animals, such as cattle and sheep, which produce very high levels of methane emissions into the environment. That is the nature of our economy. If people want to destroy rural Ireland, then they should go for it if that is their view. It is not going to happen in this committee. Rural Ireland has developed its economy on the basis of agriculture.
I shall now turn to the aspect of solutions. The fact is that we have one million cattle, with more than one million cattle also in dairy, so we have very high herd numbers across Ireland. This is without even getting into sheep numbers and other animals that feed into the methane emissions and other emissions concerns. What types of incentives are there for change? I am aware of the beef genomics programme - on which I commend the Department - but what other incentives are there for farmers to change practices? Are there ways or means by which methane emissions from animals can be reduced? Will the witnesses tell the committee of the science that exists in this regard? It is my view that agriculture is Ireland's economy and it is the rural economy. This is the way it is. Who is seriously proposing that we will just destroy that overnight? We need, however, to discover what action we can take. I would like to get a sense of that.
At EU level, while Ireland is criticised for agriculture's high contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, it is actually commended on the research being carried out in this area. I want to get a better sense of what is happening in this arena from the officials. What is the Department's plan? I am aware that the officials have outlined some of it in their presentation but let us be real - the big issue relates to methane emissions. How can we reduce these? I have heard some reports of feed that can be given to animals to reduce the level of these emissions. What measures are available and what incentives can be given to farmers?
Reference was made to the contribution of biofuels. Ireland's sugar beet industry collapsed and one of the ways of reintroducing it would be to use the crop as a biofuel. Recently, the European Commission proposed to reduce the targets for the contribution of crop biofuels to transport. A presentation on that proposal was made to the committee. I understand that there may be a rowing back on that measure and that the Department and the Government would be opposed to it. We really have not developed the full potential of biofuel in Ireland. Let us consider the figures. Germany has 8,000 biogas plants, Britain has 600 and Ireland has one pilot scheme. The target is 7% for crop biofuel for transport and Ireland is at around the 1% mark. Why are we not doing better in that area, especially as it could help us to bring back the sugar beet industry? On the one hand, we were informed by the EU, quite rightly, that we need to look at the contribution of agriculture to greenhouse gas emissions. A number of reports have been compiled by the EU and it keeps challenging us on this matter. That is fair enough. On the other hand, however, the EU is reducing targets and hugely reducing incentives for people who would actually help to reduce those emissions. The EU is disincentivising potential investment in the sector. We have spoken about the crisis in the tillage sector in Ireland. This could be another opportunity for people to help to bring back the sugar beet industry.
I want to get a sense of the incentives for reducing methane emissions. There is no way of changing the fact that Ireland has a high reliance of beef, on dairy and on sheep sectors in our rural economy. No one in this committee is proposing that we undo that so we need to address the issue. On the issue of crop biofuel, I was very alarmed to see the EU preaching to us about greenhouse gas emissions while taking away one of the options we have to reduce the emissions, and one of the incentives we have for sectors in our economy.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
I have just a couple of comments on the questions that were raised. Deputy Penrose asked about the focus on the environment at EU level.
It has been flagged that it will be a key issue going forward in the context of supporting farmers to achieve good environmental outcomes. There are multiple ways to do that. As I set out in my opening statement, they are very much part of our scheme structure now for targeted interventions to deliver support to farmers and have a high degree of delivery from environmental expenditure. That will undoubtedly continue and probably increase with the development of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, in the years ahead. I will leave it to others to address Coillte. We do not have a representative of Coillte here so it is hard for me to deal with that.
Senator Paul Daly referred to the tillage sector. Tillage accounts for less than 8% of land use in the country by area so it is important for us to retain a strong and vibrant sector, not just for feed production but also since it is a significant supplier of raw materials to the burgeoning and strengthening distilling and brewing industry. We are particularly exercised about maintaining a vibrant tillage sector. It is undoubtedly challenged by global prices for the market. The supports available include the targeted agriculture modernisation scheme, TAMS, which has a number of measures. Over 800 applicants have come in. Supporting machinery and mechanisation generates efficiency in tillage production. Our message about efficiency of fertiliser use, which is a large component of the cost of growing crops here, is consistent in trying to ensure that the most efficient production systems are in place.
There are measures under the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, which are dedicated specifically to the tillage sector such as catch crops. We have 2,366 growers of catch crops, which means putting a crop in after harvest. Such activity is positive from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective. Over 300,000 farmers use minimum tillage under the scheme and almost 13,000, predominantly but not exclusively tillage farmers, grow wild bird cover which is a significant support to the sector too.
This will be a huge challenge in the future. We are going from the tillage sector, which is beneficial for carbon issues, to a sector which may not be as efficient from that perspective. How will that be bridged?
Mr. Bill Callanan:
It is a big challenge. It is impacted upon by world grain prices having been poor for the past couple of years. There will undoubtedly be rebalancing of demand. For example, even the price of straw has gone through the roof this year as a recognition that home-grown grain is a valuable component of agriculture. We produce over 2 million tonnes of grain for the feed industry nationally so it is a very important sector economically and makes a positive contribution in respect of the environment. There will be challenging years ahead. I would not disagree that a number of tillage farmers are unable to effectively pay the rents that seem to be payable from the dairy sector but, that said, a number of measures were specifically aimed there. The tillage sector is hugely dependent on rented land and the lease arrangements with regard to the tax treatment of that has led to many more leases rather than short-term rentals for that sector. Approximately 50% of the land area for tillage is subject to rent rather than ownership. That lease arrangement has become very popular and valuable to the tillage sector as a consequence. Equally so, with regard to access to finance, the drawdown of the low-cost loan facility that was announced by the Minister last year has been proportionate to the level of indebtedness of the sector, so the sector has availed to that to an extent we would expect. It will continue to be challenging. If we focus on value added, etc., through distilling and malting, and products such as Flahavan's Progress Oatlets, that has been an important opportunity for tillage farmers, but there is no doubt that it will remain challenging.
Senator Mac Lochlainn asked about the science involved. We have a significant research budget which applies to the area of climate challenge. Over €17 million has been spent in the last ten years on research projects focused on this. We read about the ambitions regarding seaweed and other things as possible additives. From our perspective, it gives confidence that an additive works but naturally, with anything like that, one has to be conscious that we are producing a food product and therefore a level of scrutiny is needed to give comfort that the end product is not impacted. There was a scare a number of years ago about an additive that is used in fertiliser in New Zealand, dicyandiamide, DCD, which was applied to land to reduce emissions and was found in minuscule levels in the final dairy product, leading to reduced consumer confidence. As a major exporting nation with a particular emphasis on baby formula production, this is something that has to be avoided. One has to be particularly careful with interventions. Speaking to somebody from the Dutch structural system last year, he said that it has a policy of "don't mess with the cow" as an underlying safety check to ensure that no difficulties are created.
On the matter of biofuels, we are a net importer of feed here so, unlike some international countries which have a much larger tillage sector, there is less availability of feed outside our own usage or our usage for distilling and brewing for biofuels and such. We have less dependence on alternative crops such as oilseed rape compared to other countries, for example, the UK, where alternative crops might represent 25% of production. It is less than 10% here. Our system of tillage and cereals production does not favour a significant biofuel industry as a consequence.
I appreciate Mr. Callanan's point that one has to be very careful with food sources. Is he saying that there is no feed we can give to cows and such that would reduce methane emissions? It appears to me that the options then are very limited. Taking on board the concerns of my colleagues about forestry and carbon sequestration, does that limit our options? Where do we sit with that?
Mr. Bill Callanan:
I would not say that there are no feed additives. A number of different types of feed additive can be applied. On seaweed and the discussion about it, my understanding is that the inclusion rate would be 2%, which would be quite large if done at a national level. I am unsure as to whether that reduction in methane emissions is maintained as the system gets used to the additive etc. The concern we have with some additives is that they need to be researched to the last to ensure that there is no safety risk. On international research co-operation, the Minister announced the €1.8 million to Europe-wide research projects for sustainable sheep production and sustainable livestock production, on a collaborative basis involving Teagasc, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, etc., where we are involved with networks of researchers internationally to deal with these shared issues. We are all part of the global alliance for that research.
I apologise for interrupting. I read that 18% of greenhouse gases globally come from ruminant animals.
We are part of an international community and this is an international challenge. I mean this as no criticism of the witnesses but it strikes me as extraordinary that internationally there has been no acknowledgement of this as a problem for which a solution needs to be found. I appreciate that there is no panacea. In fairness to the witnesses, what they are outlining is alarming because it is a minuscule contribution towards reducing the impacts. It is just worrying.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
There is a global research alliance which brings together all countries with similar ambitions in terms of the research agenda. There is also a European network regarding that research agenda in which we participate fully. The financing is provided on an international basis but with the national authority funding that is done within the national boundary. It is done completely through collaboration. A lot of effort is going into that research agenda. We have an intervention which we are comfortable will reduce emissions within the animal itself. There are other interventions for manure, etc.
Mr. Jack Nolan:
I support what Mr. Callanan said. A total of 15% of infant milk formula in the world is produced from Irish milk. This is a value-added product that must be above reproach. We must be sure of exactly what we are doing. I do not think we should be too pessimistic about the opportunities for Irish agriculture. The Department is investing heavily in knowledge transfer and knowledge exchange. There are huge opportunities there. Only 10% of Irish soils are at optimal fertility for phosphorous, potassium, lime and so on. If we look at what we are producing at the moment, we can see that there are opportunities to get that right and produce more from less so we produce more efficiently. The Department is investing very heavily in knowledge transfer over the next couple of years of RDP. A total of 20,000 farmers are participating at the moment in discussion groups and so on. It is an investment of €100 million. Teagasc is very well resourced for knowledge transfer, farm advisers on the ground and research. We have 800 agricultural advisers so when one compares us to countries across Europe, particularly the UK, one can see that the number of advisers compared to farmers is very good. That is where we will see change - by improving soil fertility and changing practice on farms - because small changes can make a big difference. That is one of the ways we can move forward.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
Regarding the points made by Deputy Penrose, there are challenges regarding afforestation targets but in 2015 and 2016, some 12,800 hectares were planted, which is above the target. Afforestation this year is slightly down on the target and we have heard some of the reasons for that. A total of 21,000 people have afforested their land at this stage so there are obviously difficulties regarding increasing that level year on year. There is competition for land from other sectors, for example, dairy expansion. I made the point the last time I appeared before the committee that the harvest is at record levels in terms of the amount of wood that is coming out of our forests. We are forecasting that this will increase over the next two decades. As we said in our opening statement, it is set to double.
It is important to realise that it is not just about the sequestration in the forest. It is also about the products that come from the forest in terms of the wood and how they are used in the built environment is really important. It is also important to emphasise the contribution of forest materials make as a sustainable and carbon-neutral fuel source. It is about the three elements in terms of the contribution to mitigation.
I wish to voice my concern about what I see as the general bashing and hammering of agriculture in public and media commentary and, at times, at EU level in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. When one looks at it in the round, and Mr. Callanan has described the layers of effort that are being made at every level in terms of farming practice and feed, one can see that every other aspect of farming is being examined and standards are required of farmers who are receiving payments so that their practices reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. I know farmers can vouch for this and when one hears what came out of the Citizens' Assembly, it is a cause for concern. Sometimes it seems that we are having this conversation here and are privy to the data - the very good news about the steps being taken in farming to tackle climate change - but it does not seem to go much further than that. Was Mr. Callanan invited to attend the Citizens' Assembly as an expert? Was anybody from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who is dealing with this issue hands on invited? Was any other State body such as Teagasc invited? Who presented? That is one side of things.
The other issue is that we need food and we will need more food as our population grows. We are doing it in a carbon-efficient manner and are probably doing it on a greater scale because we are more agriculture-dependent. Agriculture brought us through the recession and is the backbone of our economy. It seems there is a lack of common sense. What input have the witnesses had regarding the Citizens' Assembly? I know witnesses are called before the assembly to give evidence and explain what is happening.
Regarding tackling climate change, I feel there is a philosophy that we are going to turn back the clock and that perhaps we should not take as many flights and we should all use bicycles. I would put in that same bracket the idea that on that basis alone, we will cut back our national herd whether it is the dairy or suckler cow herd. Anybody speaking in the real world has to say that it must be about innovation, knowledge transfer and knowledge exchange. It must be about finding new ways of doing things. It is very disappointing to hear this said about agriculture when we see what is happening in transport across the board. Where many people can take personal responsibility regarding carbon emissions coming from the use of fossil fuels such as oil in transport, they do not choose to do that but they constantly seek out agriculture as this big category that should be brought to task and in some way curtailed to help us achieve this. I do not think it is realistic and there needs to be a very serious debate about this. I appreciate that when we go to the table in Europe and deal with other member states, we must discuss it. We would do so because we have nothing to hide, but while one can modify a car, one cannot modify a cow. Some of it is a bit ridiculous.
When we are attending European summits such as the Paris summit or where we are dealing with other member states, are we seriously being asked to cut our national herd? Is this really being flagged as a serious prospect for this country? One of the witnesses mentioned that it is a key issue being flagged by the EU. If farmers and the general population are to get on board, which is aside from what we are asking people to do in farming, we need to have a conversation that has more common sense when it comes to various industries and how people live their lives and their lifestyles. I would welcome some real answers rather than us all saying how what is happening is terrible and these are the steps we are taking. It must be grounded in reality.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I believe the farming organisations, Deputies in rural areas and the Department have the biggest sequestration area in the country. Rural Ireland is what sequesters a lot of carbon and it is taking the biggest hit for everything that goes wrong.
It is not the planes, the lorries or the transport. It is rural Ireland. It is their cows. We need to come out fighting and not be taking this every day it is on television. I believe, from the figures I have read, that there are 140 trees for each animal in Ireland. Am I correct? How many trees does one need to cover a cow? My understanding is each grown tree takes in 56 lb of CO2.
I wish to know that figure. How accurate are the figures that are being given out? To whom can we talk to ascertain how this debt is compiled? The then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, said last year there would be a review. We were not happy with some of the ways the carbon figure was being added up in Ireland. Are we basically just taking figures from somebody and not questioning them? Do we know how many trees are planted through REPS, GLAS and AEOS? Have all those figures been compiled? Have we allowed for the amount of destocking in the Senator's county and other counties of ewes and the extra sequestration that is taking place? Are we doing it thoroughly or are we just throwing figures at things?
The witness spoke of beef genomics and moving cattle and I note that 10,000 extra cattle were killed this year. We are only kicking in around the same tonnage of cattle. Is that saying that we are doing better in this regard? Dr. Hendrick might confirm whether I am correct in stating we have not reached our target in plantations this year because of a huge number of problems with and blockages to getting planting done. If we are talking about hitting a level of 10,000 ha and more in forestry planting, I seek the witnesses' figures on the demise of farming in ten years' time on foot of all of this lovely talk about carbon and climate change. I believe we will lose 20,000 farmers with all the talks that are going on.
Is the west of Ireland being earmarked for most of this planting? Would it not be fair that every county would have to take its share? Could the witnesses give us the breakdown that is required? Does a farmer need five acres? If one has bog for example, bog sequesters 40 tonnes of carbon a year. At present what is being done in Ireland is akin to me making all the bales in my field and feeding half the neighbours cattle for the winter. We are covering aeroplanes and all the other different sectors with the carbon we have at the moment. This is an argument that should be made for people with private property but no individual person is allowed his or her own carbon credits. We are the happy family; we are covering everyone in the country. On the designation of land, and special areas of conservation, SACs, Dr. Hendrick spoke about the hen harrier project and said that we are waiting for a report. Let us be honest with people: according to everyone to whom I have talked who is involved in the report, it will state that forestry will not be allowed in it. In parts of County Mayo and parts of Connemara, one cannot put in or take down a spruce tree because they are designated now. One side wants us to leave it barren and the other side will not let people grow a tree in it. I know that bad trees will grow, they will not be as good as trees grown on fairly good land. However, if we want to try and sort out problems we have to do things.
On biomass and related issues, Bord na Móna is talking about bringing it from Georgia. It will get grants there to set up a factory and will get someone there who will sow it and cut it. The board will bring it to a factory there and then we will whip it back here in a boat. At the same time, let us be honest with people. Approximately €10 million is going to the car side of things and €7 million is provided for solar power, for making biomass plants, choosing to subsidise it or whatever will be done and for anaerobic digestion. We are talking about achieving something on one side while on the other side, it is not viable. In the past few weeks, a farmer who six years ago went down the miscanthus route appeared on Newstalk. That farmer has walked away from it and gone back to beef farming. We can dream dreams, although at night and in bed is the time to do that, but we are talking about doing things. The facts will tell one that to grow a sufficient amount of willow to cover Lanesborough power station, the good land of the full county of Roscommon would be needed. Forget growing it on bad land, one will not get the tonnage. It would be great if we could grow it on Bord na Móna bog but there is nothing there suitable to grow it. The full county of Roscommon would need to be in willow to get something like 40% to feed the power station in Lanesborough. We better go to Offaly and cover Shannonbridge as well with another county.
I would like to know the facts and the tonnages. What is required to cover a cow and are we, the farming community and the agricultural sector, taking the brunt? We have grown more trees and have reduced stock numbers. Am I correct in stating we are 14% better than we were in 1990?
Although we have got good, it still is said that the national herd should be slaughtered, that we should get rid of farmers and those farmers should not live. To be blunt, I would call those who are coming out with this stuff idiots. What went on in the Citizen's Assembly was misguided information. If the head of the Citizen's Assembly had any respect for the people of Ireland, the assembly would have brought in people like the present witnesses who could say there has been a reduction of 14%, instead of having people vote to get rid of everything. If we increase the number of people in the country we will do harm. Should we get rid of them? Should we do the same in the world?
Do we need to sit down and analyse exactly what is happening? Do we need to fight for the agricultural sector? The representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has stated it is that sector that is doing all this. It is the people living in cities and going up in aeroplanes who are causing the problems. We are self-sufficient if people want to look at what we had in agriculture land, at what we have planted and at what we have now. However we are not putting that argument forward. We are getting beaten every time. We must take them on but I note the figures coming out in respect of subsidisation of these so-called new green ideas amount to pence. We will not have the changes that are needed. I visited Banbridge to look at an anaerobic digester that worked on grass. I did the figures, however, and even at 9 cent per kilowatt hour, the farmer would be getting nothing for his land. What does grain sequester? Do we have all those figures? I would love to know. Witnesses who appeared before the committee painted a lovely picture to the effect that all the grain farmers in the brewing sector were doing mightily. The following week, they were outside Leinster House stating they were going bust. This is the problem that is happening with the agricultural communities.
Do the witnesses think that each county should take its own percentage of plantation? Should it all be loaded to Leitrim? Should it be loaded to certain counties just because they might not have as good land? Do we look at the consequences of a food shortage, because we are all gone mighty now, we will have no cattle in the field if at all possible. However, people have to live and eat. They are not all going to be vegetarians and they will not live on fresh air. Are we going down a road whereby everyone in Europe and the world is being sucked into something? We have to start living in the real world.
I thank the witnesses and apologise for being late. I have to leave again shortly because I have a Topical Issue matter coming up shortly. C'est la vie. It is either a feast or a famine in this game. Apologies for missing the contribution but I read the opening statement. The witnesses might clarify a few things for me. What was meant by more efficient manure applications?
I read recently that there is an expectation around the potential use of seaweed as feed. Is this being considered? Is there any potential for carbon capture in the farming community, similar to the methods available in this regard to other industries, such that farmers could use carbon to their advantage?
Mr. Bill Callanan:
I will deal with the questions in the order they were asked. In regard to Senator Mulherin's question about the commentary on the Citizens' Assembly, as I said at the outset it is difficult for us as civil servants to comment on that process. We understand that a report will issue in due course to the Houses of the Oireachtas, which will be debated. We will take our cue in terms of approaches from that debate.
In regard to the recognition of the duality of food and environment ambitions, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has to been to the fore, including at European level, in terms of ensuring that this is recognised. As I set out in my opening remarks, the Council conclusion is that the requirement for the duality of food production and environmental positivities is recognition of the effort that is being made at Government level to ensure that voice is heard.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
No. My understanding of the process is that it is to feed through externally and, I suppose, back to Government as opposed to Government feeding into it. That is the general approach. The assembly has an advisory group that identifies speakers, etc. I can confirm that as of yet nobody from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been invited to make a presentation to it. There was a presentation to the Citizens' Assembly over the weekend from Teagasc in terms of the science, etc., as currently available.
I was involved in the Constitutional Convention. There were a number of citizens and only a small number of politicians on that convention. There are no politicians on the Citizens' Assembly. The citizens' representative group relish the opportunity to ask questions and get data and perspectives. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is at the coalface of this issue. It takes this matter so seriously that it has appointed Mr. Callanan to his position. Issues around greenhouse gases are being tackled cross-departmentally. Given the amount of time the Department spends on tackling climate change and its continued impact on farming into the future and the level of environmental demands that farmers are required to meet, I agree with the Chairman that the debate was skewed. It is most unsatisfactory that nobody from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, specifically Mr. Callanan, was invited. Mr. Callanan could have been cross-examined. The assembly is capable of doing that. It does not help in the effort to tackle climate change when there is imbalanced debate that throws up a result that does not reflect the amount of work that is being done.
The Citizens' Assembly is only the beginning of the process. As mentioned by Mr. Callanan, a report will be provided to the Oireachtas. I am sure there will be a lot of discussion on it in the time ahead. I expect that the Department will feed into the process going forward.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
Undoubtedly so, following on from the debate on the report. FoodWise 2025 was drawn up by a committee of 35 industry experts in the agri-sector. It identifies sustainability as one of the key requirements and objectives for the agricultural sector. It sets out, as an over-arching chapter, five core areas such as innovation, capital, sustainability, etc.. It is important to recognise that it highlights the importance of climate change in the overall national debate and also in terms of the expectation of delivering sustainable food production and positive outcomes for the environment. This is taken seriously within the Department.
FoodWise 2025 is subject to quarterly review through the high level implementation committee, which is chaired by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Also, I chair the environmental sustainable committee which brings the agencies and other Departments together and is charged with oversight of the implementation of the recommendations in the report in terms of the environment. It is important from a message point of view to identify the contribution that agriculture is making and the efforts of the Department in terms of enhancing efficiencies across multiple layers. In regard to greenhouse gas emissions across the State, we have a role and responsibility in terms of achieving the best outcomes we can in reducing emissions from the sector and we take this particularly seriously because there is a regulatory demand in that regard and also a marketplace demand. As an exporter, the sustainable systems we have must stand up to independent scrutiny internationally. Bord Bia is very focused on this; the Origin Green programme arises from this process. Bord Bia, Teagasc and the Department are very focused on achieving the maximum efficiencies that can be gained within the sector.
On the national herd and the demand for a reduction in that regard, this is not the case. There is a national ambition in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, to which we are all committed, but there is not a sectoral target in that regard, nor is there an identification of how this should be achieved. It is very much up to the industry and the Department to set out how they propose to contribute to the national effort in reducing emissions. The Department is committed to doing that.
Mr. Callanan stated earlier that the EU has flagged as a key issue how we propose to reduce carbon emissions in agriculture. As such, the EU is not leaving it to us to decide how this will be achieved. On his point that this is a matter for Ireland, that is not the case if the EU is telling us what to do.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
Looking at it from the perspective of investment, there is significant investment annually in farms in the country through our supports, such as Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, and there is a recognition that there must be significant contribution in lieu of that from the sector in maximising that contribution to the national effort.
Mr. Callanan mentioned Pillar 1 and Pillar 2. Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 were introduced to ensure that the food produced is affordable This was the first aim of the EU. Without that support, food production would be more expensive and farmers would not be able to survive. Ireland is a net contributor to the EU such that money provided for Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 is our own money. As I said, these schemes were introduced to help people in less well off areas afford food production. I do not believe they should be brought into the equation. They should not be used as a rod to ensure farmers do something different with their land.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
From our perspective, we are not using a rod in terms of our approach. We are trying, through investment in knowledge transfer and the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, etc., to encourage the practices which are delivering the efficiencies demanded of the sector. I would not classify our approach as a rod, rather it is an encouragement.
I shall leave it to my colleague, Dr. Hendrick, to confirm the number of trees that must be planted to offset the greenhouse gas emissions produced by a single cow. I do not have the data.
In terms of the research agenda and the industries maintained, there is a high degree of focus on ensuring that they are correct, appropriate and up to date. Let us be clear, the science will evolve as we gain more information. The inventory is maintained by the EPA, which uses data provided by various agencies, etc.
On the reductions in sheep numbers, the national dairy-beef herd and the number of ruminant animals generally, we have all of the valid data and it can be corroborated. For example, in terms of the annual usage of fertiliser, we keep a very detailed record of fertiliser sales that naturally feeds into the process of inventories. There is high degree of accuracy in the data.
The amount of money available for solar anaerobic digestion, etc. is an issue for Government. From the point of view of civil servants, we only deal with matters when the money has been provided and, therefore, the matter should be discussed at another venue.
On Deputy Corcoran Kennedy's question about more efficient manure applications, the Department and, in particular, Teagasc are investing in this area. First, a trailing shoe mechanism used in the application of manures has been identified as increasing efficiency by 10%. There is a 10% efficiency to be gained from moving slurry from mid-year application to spring application and a further 10% can be gained by using trailing shoes on slurry tanks. So the increase in efficiency is approximately 20%.
There has been a phenomenal take-up in respect of the TAMS investment scheme for the technology. Over 1,000 applications have been received to date and 870 of these have been approved. This shows that farmers are voting with their feet, particularly those who employ intensive methods, in terms of using the technology. The scheme is supported through GLAS because a payment is given to people who use the technology.
On carbon capture, realistically we consider carbon sequestration. In order words, an opportunity to take more in through afforestation, as mentioned by Dr. Hendrick, and the proper and appropriate use of peatlands, dry mineral soils, etc. One could say that we maximise the efficient use of those with a view to increasing and enhancing. Let us be clear about the difficulty. It is the incremental increase that is counted and not just the sequester. It is true to say the agriculture sector is unique as it produces emissions and offers opportunities for sequestration.
I have dealt with issue of seaweed. From a scientific point of view, I am hopeful that there will be opportunities for interventions in the sector. However, we must be careful to ensure that the integrity and quality of our food is not compromised.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
I thank the Chairman for reminding me and I thank Deputy Fitzmaurice for asking the questions. On average, a hectare of forest will capture 10 tonnes of CO2 per year over the lifetime of a crop. That includes wood products that are harvested in the forest and subsequently used. The calculation does not include the energy element, which is regarded as a neutral emission into the atmosphere.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
Yes. The carbon capture is 10 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year.
In terms of the point made by Mr. Callanan, it is important to note that this is an annual take-up. It is not a stock but a stock change.
In regard to the equivalence number for cattle, I do not have that information to hand but I will forward it to the Deputy.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
Yes. It is important to reiterate a couple of things that Mr. Callanan mentioned to Deputy Fitzmaurice. We have to report all of our data to the EPA and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC. There are very stringent accounting and reporting rules associated with that in terms of what we measure and report. It is important to note that all of the data we provide at international level is peer reviewed by the UNFCCC. Much of our data on the forestry sector is Irish-based. We have conducted a lot of research over the past ten to 15 years that was funded by various national programmes. Therefore, we can better determine the growth rate of forests and the level of take-up in respect of biomass and different components. All of the data is published and peer reviewed. In order for the data to be accepted it has to be published in a peer reviewed and scientific journal.
In terms of blockages to afforestation, certain referrals must be made in terms of potential habitat areas, fisheries, etc. That is the statutory obligation of the Forestry Service and we refer those to other agencies, which is all done as efficiently as possible. There are no county-based targets. Basically, it is a national policy. Every eligible landowner has an opportunity, if he or she wishes, to engage in afforestation.
If everyone involved in farming decided to plant one or two hectares, the farming sector would still get a wrap on the knuckles because other people would still claim that it is responsible for big emissions. The latter is despite the fact that we have put in place mitigation measures, etc. This is where a balance must be struck. Those involved in agriculture are starting to bring the level of emissions down. If every farmer decided to sow one hectare of forestry, it would be of some assistance. However, some people would not see it that way and farmers will continue to be blamed, which is completely wrong.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
As I have said before, we must be mindful that Ireland is an international supplier of food. The Department is obliged to identify what can be done by farmers, to show leadership by acknowledging what is done and to identify and recognise the challenges that we will face to achieve our goal to reduce emissions.
In terms of the international market, we are clearly aware that there is a value for and expectation of sustainability. There is an onus on us, particularly on this side of the table, to validate and confirm sustainability claims when they are being made because of the apparent risk, if an element is challenged or criticised, of damaging the overall brand. Ireland is viewed as a very green, food-producing nation. As I said at the outset, from a livestock perspective, a rain-fed, grass-based production system is internationally recognised as being positive from the perspective of welfare and the environment.
I only want to help the situation. Dr. Hendrick said that the carbon capture is 10 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. If we planted 1,000 hectares more per year, we would reduce the agricultural sector's carbon emissions for 2020 or whatever. We would also give ourselves a very sellable product everywhere around the world because our emissions would be lower. At present, the initiative would still assist in reducing our emissions but the agricultural sector would only get a quarter of the benefit because every other sector is sweeping a bit out of it.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
I want to be very clear that afforestation is seen as a critical part of the agricultural contribution, as stated at the outset, of carbon neutrality that does not compromise food production, recognises the need for efficiency of production and reduces the emissions per kilogram etc.
It is also important to recognise the sequestration opportunity, and forestation is a very clear element within the agricultural totality of that. It is budgeted through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and is very much a core function of the Department. It should be recognised as the agricultural contribution and we are very consistent.
There is also the contribution to other sectors, such as energy arising from biomass etc. Green energy production invariably arises from products coming from the agricultural sector. As I set out in the statement, that is our position on contribution.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
If I may add to that, it is important to realise that forestry is an excellent way to contribute to climate change mitigation in its own right. In the international reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, forestry is recognised as a good and very cost-effective way of mitigating climate change. Basically it takes carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it into forests and forest products, and allows us to use the product again for energy substitution.
In the Irish context, that recognition is being acted upon through the afforestation programme. It is recognition of the role that forests play in mitigating climate change. It takes place over a long period. It takes 35 to 40 years to get the full contribution and then, as I said earlier on, the forest must be preserved to maintain the contribution over time.
In the longer run, another important point concerns forest products. It is important that we use these products wisely in the built environment and the construction sector. There are really good opportunities around those forest products in the mitigation of climate change. They allow us to substitute other materials, in terms of embedded emissions to coin a phrase, in other materials. Second, it is a carbon store in its own right that one is using. It is not just about the forest but also about the products one gets from the forest, how they are used and their energy potential. Of course, this is assuming that it is all sustainably produced, which it is, due to our policy and practice in Ireland.
Mr. Jack Nolan:
I wish to come back to Senator Mulherin's point about information. The Department makes a huge effort to bring people in. We have forums, open days and so on, to which we invite environmental non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and stakeholders. For example on 4 December, there is a Food Wise conference in Croke Park, to which environmental NGOs will be invited to participate and to hear all the pertinent information. We are very open about it because we want to be above reproach. We do not want polarisation in the section, because it does not work for anybody. We want to work with people and explain because then everybody understands the different points of view and how we can improve together.
The question of whether we are modifying the cow was raised. We are not genetically modifying it, but we are breeding a better cow all the time. The economic breeding index, EBI, that was mentioned during the opening statement shows a 40% difference between the best cow and the poorest cow. That is one of the ways we can get a better advantage. The same applies with the beef data and genomics programme. We are constantly breeding and improving, because as we said at the start, grassland is the best crop that we can grow in Ireland, and we want to make the best use possible of it, whether that is from beef or dairy. As such, we are constantly improving the genetics of Irish animals.
If we go down the route of extra planting and farming, what is the witnesses' prediction as to the number of farmers who will be in Ireland in ten years' time? When a lot of trees are sown in an area, one loses the people in a community. Deputy Martin Kenny's native county is an example and I know what he is talking about. Has the Department done any projections on that?
I wish to make a point about information and interaction in response to Mr. Nolan. I acknowledge the work that has been done, especially around breeding.
However, it seems that if we polled everyone in the country, the vast majority would agree we need to do something about climate change. It is when we get down to the level of the different measures that have to be taken in the different sectors that the issue arises. This holds true not just in agriculture but in other areas. Usually making a change, in a heating system for example, involves cost. That is where people differ. It is a case of somebody else over there who should be doing something. This was the point I was making to Mr. Callanan about why I thought it was imperative that he should have been at the Citizens' Assembly, although I acknowledge he would not go without being asked. I believe, in general, there is acceptance of the problem. We need to get down to the detail of it and look in the right direction to address the issue rather than bashing farming.
The reason agriculture has been singled out is that it represents such a large portion of the Irish economy, compared with the economies of other countries. That is the point I made at the very beginning. Across Europe or elsewhere, economies have big industrial sectors. When those countries look at what they are going to do to mitigate climate change, they look at the sector that has the accounts for the biggest portion and people do the same here. They are not giving any consideration to the huge work that has been done in agriculture to try to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions.
We have talked about the forestry issue quite a lot. The part of the country I am from has huge amounts of forestry. We have already surpassed the national quota and have probably far exceeded it. Agro-forestry was mentioned. I googled it a few minutes ago, and in the Department's agro-forestry scheme an amount of about half the size of a farming grant is awarded. A sum of €250 per hectare is given to the farmer as a premium for only five years. If the farmer plants all their land, however, they get the premium for 15 years. There is huge imbalance there immediately, which discourages people from going into it.
Furthermore, the trees must be planted on good tree-draining land that does not need drainage. This practically rules out the areas of natural constraint, which are the areas where an alternative must be found if we are to keep communities of people living there. That is what we need to do. If we are not prepared to do that, if we want to plant all of that part of the country so that there can be more cows in the Golden Vale or other areas, then let us be honest and tell the people of Leitrim, Sligo and west Cavan to go away and live somewhere else, or move into a town or the city. If that is what the Government wants us to do, it needs to come and tell us that.
When I look out my door all I see are trees and never a human being. There is nobody. Just the other evening I was outside, power-washing the front of the house, and in three hours one car passed. I repeat, one car. There is nobody living in rural Ireland. They are all gone, because there is no employment, no work and no hope and the only solution we keep getting to plant more trees.
I am sorry but climate change or no climate change, at some stage we must fight back and say we deserve better than that. Our children and their future deserve that we should have a place to live in our community and that we should prosper there, just as anyone should hope to in their community. It seems that all we are going to do with it is plant it. That is all I hear. I was delighted when the witness said agro-forestry was in the scheme. I googled it and I saw that it is an option. People can try it, but it is clearly not an option for us. Can that change? Can we make it an option for rural Ireland?
The committee has heard about elephant grass, willow, hemp, and all the other things that people come up with every so often. I know a man who got a licence to do to grow hemp and did quite well at it for a couple of years, and on poor land. The market is the problem, however. Why can we not get it right? Why can other countries get it right? Why can Americans grow it profitably and export it to us, but we cannot? What is wrong? Is somebody powerful somewhere making too much money out of growing coniferous trees? Is that what is wrong? Do the ordinary people on the ground not matter? Is that the problem? Is there an imbalance in power here? If that is really what it is about, then we need to name that, call it out and stop it.
Mr. Bill Callanan:
The Food Wise 2025 strategy has a couple of clear ambitions within it. One of those is the creation of 23,000 extra jobs within the food industry in its broadest sense. Those jobs are predominantly rural-based.
This is a very important ambition to recognise in the context of the opportunity that Food Wise brings. As Mr. Nolan said, a significant conference will be held on 5 December on the ambition of Food Wise. I do not have data to confirm one way or another any expectation as to the number of farmers in ten years' time but I refer again to the ambition to create 23,000 jobs. We are moving towards that. At the same time the Department was grappling through a number of presentations, a challenge arose in respect of access to labour on farms across a number of sectors across Ireland, including horticulture and dairying, because of fuller employment in the general economy. I would not be as despondent about rural Ireland, particularly agriculture's contribution to it.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
I thank Deputy Martin Kenny for his questions. I will make a few general points. First, the number of people employed in the forestry sector in Ireland is approximately 12,000. There is a lot of activity around County Leitrim. The largest taxpayer in County Leitrim is the Masonite plant, which is based in Drumsna, as Deputy Kenny knows.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
It is still a large employer for the area. It is making a good contribution to the county. County Wicklow, for example, has probably even a higher level of forest cover than County Leitrim. There is a very vibrant forest industry down there. Going through Wicklow, one will see many small sawmills, people making garden sheds and all kinds of different industry, including sawn wood, sawlog and other structural material. There is a lot of employment potential in afforestation, as I mentioned the previous day, not only in planting, but also in forest maintenance and then thinning. We are encouraging owners to get into their forests as early as possible to take out thinnings. It makes a lot of sense for the State to invest to mobilise this material because it will improve the profitability of the plantation for the owner. This is a very important point. A lot of work is going into the sector to develop local heat markets, which are very important.
Another point I would make is that it is not in any way mandatory for anyone to afforest; it is a totally voluntary scheme. Attractive grants and premiums are available to do it, but there is no stipulation that any landowner must plant all of his or her land. The potential is there for landowners to plant part of their land and maintain part of their holding in agriculture, so there can be a mixed model. The threshold for afforestation is quite low in terms of the area that needs to be planted in order to get grant aid. It is less than a hectare of forest.
There are many positives about forestry, including the potential employment, the potential rural jobs that will flow out of it downstream. The proof of the pudding is in the eating when one considers the example of Wicklow and other counties, where there has been a forestry sector for quite some time. This will happen in Leitrim as well because many areas in Leitrim have been planted for quite some time. Leitrim's wood is coming to market. Deputy Kenny will see timber lorries passing by his front door very soon. I would be very surprised if they are not already passing by.
The witnesses are just not getting the message of what we are saying. We are saying where there might be families living at the end of a road, if the land is planted, no matter how one does the maths and no matter what is created, they leave that area because the trees are there. There is no point in saying they are not there. We are not saying they should have no forest. Furthermore, what is happening - and this is aided and abetted by Ireland - is that investment companies are coming in and getting the same grants as Irish farmers to invest for the pension funds of people in other countries, and the Irish farmers cannot compete if they want to make land out of it. They cannot compete when the land goes for sale because these companies have huge investments behind them, and we have not tackled this as a country. There is even a crowd in Norway, with which I am sure the witnesses are well familiar, getting AIB funding and coming into this country that will spend something like €90 million or €100 million on buying up land, while we are left high and dry. This is Irish money and Irish property, no more than when the recession hit, going out of the country.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
Regarding Deputy Fitzmaurice's point, investment institutions whose company names use the applicant's account for just 126 ha of the 6,500 ha planted in 2016, and so far in 2017 the figure is 53 ha. Investment companies tend to buy existing forest rather than planting bare land. The returns in forestry become challenging when the land is not already owned for the investment company. That is the reality out there at present. Afforestation is mostly being done by farmers in the first instance.
It is a very interesting debate, but my observation of land down my way is that farmers farm the land and then might have fields that they might not think as being as good as the other land. This does not mean the farmer has stopped farming. Is this a phenomenon that is happening in Leitrim and not in Mayo? To what extent are people completely getting out of any other type of farming and just planting their land?
The example given the previous evening was that farming land was put up for sale by a person who was left the land, who inherited it. They do not live nearby. For the past number of years the land had been leased. A local man with suckling cows was farming the land. Now that the land is for sale, that man wants to buy it. The man went into the bank and the banks told him they would lend him the money to buy it providing he planted it because he would be guaranteed income from that. The banks will not lend people money if they buy land for any other reason other than to plant it.
Exactly. The problem is that the Government is putting money in so that the farmer will be left with little other option. If he or she wants to buy the land, he or she must plant it. That is the only thing he or she can do with it. We need to make other activities more viable. In addition, we have many people coming in who are buying land from other counties. These are farmers from other areas of the country, they are buying land in Leitrim and the local Leitrim farmers cannot compete with them because they have perhaps 300 acres in some other county where they are doing very well and they are dairy farmers who can come in and buy 40 or 50 acres of Leitrim and-----
I am not blaming people for doing it but I am saying it is what is happening. I take Mr. Callanan's point that there is work, but if I go to my parish, quite a bit of which is planted, there is not one human being I know who works in forestry, unless there is someone driving a lorry around somewhere whom I do not know about. Generally, that is all we have: guys driving trucks, hauling the timber out when it is finished after 40 years. The problem we have is that there is such a tiny amount of work compared to if the land were put to any other use.
Before the witnesses come back in, I would like them to give me their opinion on one other thing. There are problems, be it in Mayo or Connemara, where there are land tracts that are designated and one can do nothing with them. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has been touched on. It will come out and say where the hen harrier is there will be no planting. That is a problem for both the Department trying to get emissions down and for farmers because the land is basically worthless. One would be as well off not having it at all. What is the witnesses' view on this? In their view, does all this abandoned land need changing because of designation?
Mr. Jack Nolan:
I wanted to refer to the example of Leitrim. Teagasc launched a roadmap about three months ago on dairying, and 6,000 jobs will be available over the next ten years. That is the number of people who need to come into the industry. One of the really successful things that has been done is contract heifer rearing in Leitrim.
As alternatives are being developed, it is just a matter of getting new ideas going. Dairy farmers want to milk off their own land and have the heifers reared elsewhere. There are options out there and Leitrim is one the counties specifically mentioned in this regard.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
With regard to employment, the rationale for the Forest Service grant aid is based on employment as much as on anything else. This is not just a matter of carbon sequestration. The reality is that case studies have shown that employment results from afforestation. This does not just apply from the age of 40 because, as I mentioned earlier, we are encouraging owners to get in there early on, when the trees are approximately 10 m or 12 m tall, which in County Leitrim would typically be the case for trees between the age of 12 and 13 years. This is the time to get in to do the first thinning and that is why we are encouraging this. This is has huge benefits, not only for the owner but also for the State and for the downstream. This brings forward material very rapidly. Our policy on the forest side is not just about carbon sequestration or industry downstream, it is also about providing sustainable jobs in rural Ireland. I acknowledge we are here to talk about climate change mitigation but it is also vitally important that the State's investment in the forest sector supports such jobs. As I stated already, the case is there.
Thresholds are in place with regard to unenclosed land. This makes very good sense from the perspective of the State's investment because one does not want to plant land that cannot grow an economic crop of trees. It is really important that we get value for the taxpayers' money and that is one reason for these thresholds. It is not the only reason and I accept that member's point that there are environmental designations. There is also an economic threshold, however. When land is being considered for afforestation, it must cross this productivity threshold meaning that both the State and the landowner get a sustainable return from their investment over the long term.
There is a process in place at national level with regard to the hen harrier. The outcome has yet to be decided.
Before I come to Mr. Callanan, I have a question of my own. We have had some discussion about the Food Wise 2025 strategy and about the hugely ambitious targets in some sectors. Does Mr. Callanan think it possible to achieve these targets? These include extra employment and the value of exports to increase to €19 billion by 2025. These are obviously very good targets for the industry but ambitious ones. Can they be achieved while at the same time balancing the agenda on climate change?
Mr. Bill Callanan:
It will undoubtedly be a particularly significant challenge for us I thank the Senators and Deputies for their level of engagement today, which is itself evidence of the challenge that lies before us when it comes to ensuring that food production is maintained and developed on the one hand while we deliver on our environmental ambitions and credentials on the other. Today's debate was evidence of how we are trying to achieve these multiple objectives and where it is that the balance lies. I assure the Deputies and Senators that the balancing of these two ambitions exercises us and is set out in Food Wise 2025. The committee has the Department's commitment to try to achieve that balance by communicating the positive messages we have on our production systems, while also conveying responsibility and leadership in charting the way forward for farmers and for the agriculture sector in general to meet these twin ambitions. This is something on which we are particularly focused.
This has been a very interesting debate and I thank all of the witnesses for their attendance here today. I am sure they will agree this is only the beginning of a conversation that is likely to get very intense. This concludes our business for today. We will adjourn until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 November 2017.