Thursday, 16 November 2023
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
199. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which he remains committed to ensuring and safeguarding agri-food production in this country while at the same time meeting carbon reduction targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50488/23]
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has several policies and strategies in place to ensure agriculture plays its role in meeting the national climate targets by 2030 and 2050, while continuing to sustainably produce food and feed. The Food Vision 2030 Strategy sets out a pathway for Ireland to become a world leader in Sustainable Food Systems over the next decade.
My position has been consistent- each sector, including agriculture, will need to play its part to achieve these climate targets.
Climate Action Plan 2023 sets out many measures and actions to reduce Green House Gas emissions from the sector and my officials together with colleagues from the Department of the Environment Climate and Communications are currently working on preparing the agricultural chapter of Climate Action Plan 2024. In Climate Action Plan 2023, I have set out measures around three themes: inputs and additives, husbandry practices, and diversification. In practical terms, the types of actions that the sector is undertaking include reducing chemical Nitrogen usage and changing fertiliser type, providing voluntary diversification options for farmers, while also improving the environmental dividend from our farmed land. Each of these measures will be supported by a range of actions, setting out a viable pathway towards reaching our targets.
To this end, Ireland's CAP Strategic Plan will support farmers in delivering more sustainable practices while also supporting family farm incomes, with a budget of €9.8bn. In addition, I have provided €1.5bn for the new agri-environment scheme ACRES, a five-fold increase in funding for Organic Farming to €256m to triple the area of utilised agricultural area under organic production. A further €260m has been provided to improve the carbon efficiency of the suckler herd through genetic improvement.
There is no doubt that some livestock farmers will take up diversification options that are provided as part of our climate transformation including to areas such as Organics, Forestry, Tillage and the provision of feedstock for Anaerobic Digestion as we increase the production of renewables. However, given the efficiency gains that continue to be made at farm level, I remain confident that we will continue to reduce emissions in the agri-food sector without reducing our agri-output.
The implementation of a low Methane emitting breeding programme has significant potential to harness the genetic variation for methane emissions that exists within the national herd, this, in turn, will bring about permanent and cumulative reductions in the Methane output of future generations of livestock. The results of the research also highlight the potential to breed more environmentally sustainable animals, while at the same time, not having a negative impact on food production. Progress continues to be made in relation to feed additives, which will have a significant positive impact on reducing emissions.
The Teagasc Signpost Programme, supported by my department is working with Irish farmers and a partnership of over 60 partner and supporter organisations across the agri-food sector, to reduce Green House Gas emissions, reduce Ammonia emissions, reduce nutrient losses, enhance biodiversity, and improve the efficiency of food production. A cohort of 100 Signpost demonstration farms is at the centre of the Signpost Programme and cover all mainland-based enterprises. The objective of the Signpost farms will be to employ the emerging new technologies, such as new breeding programmes and feed additives, and to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from these farms to every farm in Ireland.
With the support of my Department; Teagasc, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and Bord Bia are jointly developing a toolkit of tailored farm sustainability support and solutions for Irish farmers called AgNav. From 2024, it is targeted that 10,000 farmers will be utilising the platform each year. The platform will enable an analysis of an individual farms emissions and aid the farmer together with his climate adviser to identify the best measures on climate action and sustainability for implementation on their farm.
My Department is also supporting the taking and analysis of up to 90,000 samples through phase two of the soil sampling and analysis program over the next 12 to 18 months. Phase two will build on data gathered during the initial programme by providing valuable information to farmers to inform decisions that promote the health of their soils. Nutrient management and soil health are central to achieving economic and environmental sustainability on farms. I have allocated €8.8 million to this programme, on top of this €2.5 million for multi-species swards in 2024. These supports will enable farmers to reduce chemical fertiliser inputs, an economic benefit to the farmer and an environmental benefit to society while maintaining food production.
My aim is to future proof Ireland’s Agri-Food sector for the benefit of our industry, the environment and our farm families who are the backbone of the sector and rural communities. Ireland's agri-food sector will continue to be underpinned by our world class livestock and tillage sectors, and it is critical that we work collectively to achieve our environmental targets while maintaining food production.