It has been said that if you want to hit a target, you should aim over it. This quote came to mind after the government finally agreed on a target to reduce agricultural emissions yesterday.
The final figure of 25 percent is almost a political compromise cliché — it’s as if Charlie McConalogue and Eamon Ryan, weary after days of back-and-forth over whether it should be 24 percent or 26 percent, just said, ah, share we open it up in the middle, like two farmers haggling over a sheepfold.
No doubt it wasn’t that easy, as officials in both departments are said to have agonized over the fine details and their implications for the past few months.
But what are its effects?
Well, the sun rose over Ireland’s some 135,000 farms this morning and little seems to have changed on the ground.
As an official close to the talks put it, in many ways setting the target is easy – implementing measures to achieve that target is the hard part.
The government says it has a plan to meet the 25 percent target and there is no doubt it has announced a range of measures that could cut emissions. These include reducing the use of fertilizers and changing the types of fertilizers used by farmers, reducing the age at which animals are slaughtered, spreading low-emission liquid manure, increasing the use of clover and multi-species grass lawns and much more.
Progress is being made in some areas, although a drop in fertilizer use this year has been attributed to rising prices and stricter regulations, while the age at which cattle are slaughtered has fallen by almost two months since 2010 and the majority of farmers are already doing so Use of low-emission methods for spreading liquid manure.
Unfortunately, even if farmers did comply with the Department of Agriculture’s previous proposals, that would still not be enough to reach 25 percent, assuming livestock numbers remain unchanged.
Researchers believe these measures could take the sector to 18 percent, maybe 20 percent if all goes according to plan.
Further measures are therefore required if agriculture is to reach 25 percent. The ministry knows this and the factory groups know it, even if they don’t want to hear it.
More difficult and politically toxic measures are being discussed in high-level industry committees set up by Mr McConalogue in the spring.
A farm retirement plan was discussed, while a complex ‘cap and trade’ model was proposed that would allocate emission allowances to individual farmers and allow farmers to trade their rights within the overall cap.
Using feed additives that would reduce the amount of methane cattle produce is seen as a great hope for many in the industry, with research suggesting cuts of up to 30 percent are possible.
However, it is too early to say whether these ideas will even become reality, let alone what impact they would have.
What has been lacking in the farming debate in recent weeks has been an understanding among the myriad commentators that farmers are not a homogenous group.
There is no “national flock”. It will be individual actions on individual farms that will affect emissions from the sector.
And rather than the feared culling of these ‘national’ herds, there are many in the industry who firmly believe that livestock numbers in Ireland will decline over the next decade regardless of emissions targets.
Ireland’s farming population is aging, the burden of farming regulations and bureaucracy is growing every year, farm supports are increasingly geared towards the environment rather than food production, larger farmers are struggling to attract a workforce and plant-based foods continue to gain market share.
Unfortunately, by 2030 Ireland is likely to be home to fewer farmers and fewer livestock – a changed landscape that will no doubt play a role in reducing emissions without a heavy hand shutting down the sector.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/setting-emissions-target-is-done-now-comes-the-hard-bit-getting-there-41875530.html With the emissions target in place, now comes the hard part – getting there