Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

National Climate and Air Roadmap for the Agriculture Sector: Statements

 

10:30 am

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)

I thank Senators for their engagement in what has been a very constructive debate with many high-quality contributions. It is very useful to hear Senators' feedback on the roadmap, the challenges ahead and how we can best meet those challenges in terms of ensuring that the agrifood sector makes its contribution to our national climate change and biodiversity objectives.

The Ag Climatise roadmap is very much based on the premise of stable methane levels over the next decade. This means that methane from the livestock herd cannot increase over the next decade, as this would clearly lead to an increase in global warming. I will be watching livestock number trends very carefully and as I indicated very recently at the IFA AGM, we are approaching the point where a mature discussion is needed to ensure environmental compliance costs are not transferred from expanding farmers to all farmers in the time ahead.

In terms of overall environmental trends, it is clear that water quality, while good overall by EU standards, has come under pressure in certain catchments. Initiatives have been put in place to address these declines, including the agricultural sustainability support and advisory programme, a key public-private partnership working with farmers to improve water quality. The Teagasc sign post farms initiative will also provide further impetus in this space. It will bring Ag Climatise to life and ensure that its actions are demonstrated on a number of model farms to help drive the necessary behavioural change.

I am also keen to explore the opportunities in this space for farmers. Carbon farming is a term that we will all become very familiar with over the coming years. It will be possible for farmers to reduce emissions substantially over the coming decades and I am keen to find ways to reward these farmers for taking such positive actions. There will be an opportunity to attract external private sector money into the sector. We only have to look at the success of the woodland environmental fund within my Department, whereby private sector companies are paying farmers to establish native woodlands from a corporate social responsibility perspective. As afforestation rates increase, there will be room to expand on this scheme, creating opportunities for more farmers. However, it will not be limited to forestry. I see opportunities for the rewetting of peat-based soils and also the reduction of methane from the livestock herd through the use of feed additives. While it is clear that farmers will need to change practices on their farms, I am very keen to explore ways of finding other income streams for them through the concept of carbon farming. I believe a Biden-led Administration in the USA will only accelerate progress in this space.

While Ag Climatise is fully committed to looking at diversification opportunities for all farmers, it is logical to conclude that Ireland’s agrifood sector will remain principally based around the production of high-quality meat and milk proteins. While consumption of these products may fall in the EU over the coming decades, global demand is expected to remain high with emerging middle classes, particularly in the Asian region, demanding more high-quality animal proteins. Ireland must occupy this space because we can produce these products in a more carbon efficient way than most countries throughout the world.

I thank Senators once again for their positive engagement on Ag Climatise. I will reflect carefully on what I have heard here today. Ag Climatise is a living document and it will continue to be reviewed and updated in light of the latest developments from both a policy and scientific perspective.

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