Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

National Climate and Air Roadmap for the Agriculture Sector: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)

I welcome the Minister and welcome also the publication of this plan. It sets out targets for reducing fertiliser use, encourages low-emission spreading and how we are going to promote organic farming and tillage. The document sets out a roadmap for how we are going to reduce our emissions over the next decade. A total of 35% of our emissions come from greenhouse gasses. There is a huge issue in the agricultural community about how we are going to move forward over the next few decades and it is probably going to be one of the biggest issues we need to work on. This report is very welcome.

The agricultural community is used to change, to diversity and moving with the times. However, looking at the key issues in agriculture and what we need to address, there are several issues we must start to talk about. I am thinking in particular of the positive effects of the climate action plan. I think there were something like 26 measures in that plan which the agricultural community took on board. Those measures came from Teagasc proposals. This document follows on from that and gives more clarity on how we are going to have the roadmap rolled out over the next two decades. In that roadmap, issues like low-emission spreading have been spoken about. Five years ago, low-emission spreading was not even part of the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS. It was then added to the TAMS and suddenly it became the ultimate driver such that low-emission spreading had to be modified in the most recent TAMS proposal such was the uptake on it.That shows how farming changes, how farmers have picked up the ball and run with it. That was a real game-changer. Changing fertiliser use was another matter in respect of which farmers were slow to engage but they have now picked it up, are engaging on it and are making major changes.

Tillage is, unfortunately, probably not the most profitable sector but we have to look at how we can diversify and change to make sure farmers can grow more protein products because the importation of protein products is not sustainable going forward if we want a sustainable product for our markets. Many years ago it was all about traceability, which was the buzzword in the context international markets. It is now all about sustainability and that is the key driver in making sure we get our products into the 180 countries to which the Minister referred. It is about sustainable product now. We are going an awfully long way along that road of being sustainable but one of my fears is how the farming community are feeling at the moment with this climate action and change. They think they have come so far and done so much but that they are not getting any credit for it. In fact, they feel they are being berated and told they are the main instigators of climate change. That body of work has to be done through all of society in order to bring everyone with us. At the moment, those in the farming community feel they have been targeted and blamed in many ways for our weather and for climate change, when they have made so many changes over the least three or four years in particular that have not been acknowledged.

Biomethane is a major issue but we have to start acknowledging that there are processes in place that we can work on to solve it. The Minister mentioned that feed additives could be key. I have dealt with a company in Kinsale which believes that the technology is now there to measure methane output per animal. Looking at how we changed our breeding and modified our dairy and beef sectors over the past few years through ICBF and the economic breeding index, EBI, of animals, this is another trait we can tie into that. If we had the ability to pick out the breeding traits of animals in order to breed animals with low methane levels, we could make real change very quickly.

There have been unbelievable changes with the EBI of animals in the past decade. By tying that information into the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation's website, farmers can have it at their fingertips. I calved a cow at 2 a.m. this morning and the calf was registered by 2.05 a.m. That is how much technology has changed. Farmers register calves on their phones while they are there. The majority of them now do that. We have the technology and the systems, so we just need more information. The more information, the more power and the more change. That is how we will have this debate about climate change. It is about informing and working with the farming community itself. That is probably the biggest issue, based on my WhatsApp groups and listening to farmers on the ground. They need confidence that they are not the ones we blame for everything. Positivity must come out of this and the job of this Oireachtas and the Minister will be to talk up the good work that those in the farming community have done. We have to acknowledge that they have changed and modernised, that technology has been taken on board and that they are not afraid of the word "change". If we can all work together, we will have real change in a very short period and that will benefit our entire society.


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