A second committee meeting will be held tomorrow (Thursday, March 31) at 1.30p.m to further discuss opportunities and technologies to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector.
The Joint Committees on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and Environment and Climate Action will engage with stakeholders and representatives from Dolan Industries and Devinish.
Research assistant at Dublin City University (DCU), Paul R Price recently spoke at the first committee meeting along with representatives from Moonsyst and livestock comfort company Easyfix.
Price explained that methane reduction has a huge potential as it yields a bigger temperature effect than cutting CO2 emissions, however he also raised the risk of relying on technology.
Agriculture accounts for 93% of Irish emissions of both methane and nitrous oxide (N2O), primarily caused by cattle through enteric fermentation and manure management, he said.
Milk quotas and nitrogen use
The DCU research assistant said it is crucial to understand which previous combinations of policies and measures have successfully reduced emissions. Agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions peaked in 1998 and and fell steadily until 2011, he added.
“Ongoing EU agricultural policies were in place for a period of falling emissions up to 2011, particularly the milk quota limit on the total national dairy production.”
However, since then emissions have continuously risen, and within Ireland’s grass-based system, any increase in milk or beef production now results in more emissions, according to the research assistant.
As soon as the milk quota started to be released, milk production increased rapidly along with methane emissions and nitrogen excretion from dairy cows, Price explained.
“We needed to act in 2010 to keep on going but we did the reverse, unfortunately, which is not the fault of farmers. Farmers are responding to policies like the removal of the milk quota,” he added.
The research assistant said urgent mitigation is needed which includes limiting the use of nitrogen fertiliser and feed inputs through policy and national nitrogen budgeting.
Spreading chemical fertiliser causes nitrous oxide (N2O) and ammonia emissions, however, even if we just had multi-species swards without reducing the total amount of milk production, there would be no change in methane emissions, Price said.
He added that if the same quantity of nitrogen is put through the ruminant, the amount of carbohydrates going from digestion to methane, ammonia and water pollution will remain the same.
Senator Paul Daly of the Agricultural Panel raised the opportunity of technological improvements, carbon sequestration and land use changes during the recently held committee meeting.
Technologies were presented by Moonsyst which uses artificial intelligence to obtain information from inside cattle; and Easyfix which provides slurry technology reducing ammonia emissions by over 50%.
The research assistant at DCU explained that, despite technology, emissions – especially methane and nitrous oxide (N2O) – have been rising. Price added:
“We should be very cautious about misplaced optimism that effective mitigation can be achieved via alternatives such as carbon farming, fertiliser substitution, biomethane, anaerobic digestion (AD) or other technology options.
“It is very dangerous to say we have this technology, this opportunity if that discussion distracts us from cutting emissions now. We are in a situation where we don’t have time,” the research assistant added.
Carbon farming is yet another scheme that we have had for a long time now which has generally been a disaster around the world, according to Price.
Financial markets steer in the wrong way, carbon markets collapse or are being played particularly affecting small farmers in the US and Australia who lose out, he explained.
Fine Geal TD for Dublin Bay North, Richard Bruton raised concerns that “very abrupt solutions” offered by the research assistant are hard to sell to a family farm.
Price acknowledged the difficult situation, however science from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2011 already called for a cut in emissions.
Previous calls were ignored and therefore we face more abrupt solutions with higher costs today, he added.