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Why Do Farmers Need to Engage with Climate Action?

Climate change is perhaps the greatest environmental challenge facing the world right now.  Climate change is already happening with increasing temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and rising sea levels. Irish Agriculture contributes to 35% of the greenhouse gases produced in Ireland.  We are starting from a good place in that the carbon footprint of Irish milk and beef compares well to other countries.  But we have to play our part to reduce total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

So why do farmers need to take action now to reduce emissions?

We have a social responsibility

We all have a responsibility to our families, future generations of farmers, local communities as well as wider society to minimise our impact on the environment.  We are fortunate to live in a beautiful and diverse part of the world. Our children, and all future generations of farmers, deserve the same.

Farmers take great pride in how they look after the environment is which they live and farm.  While much work has been done and continues to be done, we need to do more to reduce our gaseous emissions. 

Policy will force us to change

In Ireland, we are legally bound by many international agreements, EU policy as well as national policy in the area of climate action.  These include the Paris Agreement, the Farm to Fork Strategy, at the heart of the European Green Deal as well as the National Climate Action Bill. Programmes like the Signpost Programme will contribute to reducing GHG emissions by supporting farmers as they adopt the technologies that reduce our carbon footprint.  But these policies, future regulations and incentives will all impact on how we farm in the near future. 

To protect and grow our national and international markets

The Agricultural sector in Ireland is an important industry, employing 164,400 people.  We export 90% of what we produce with an export value of €14.5 billion.  According to NDC, 79% of Irish consumers agree that for the preservation of our planet we need to change the way we consume and produce food.  Globally, consumers want food that has a low environmental impact.  According to Bord Bia’s Dietary Lifestyle Report, 65% of people are making more of an effort to be aware of the environment around them. Consumers want food that has a low environmental footprint and we need to be able to meet the demands of our customers

Climate Change will impact all of us

Very often when we think of climate change and its impact we think of the droughts in Africa or the polar bears on the ice caps in the North Pole or the bush fires in Australia.  But the impact of climate change will be felt by all of us much closer to home.  Table 1 below outlines the potential impacts on how we will farm in the future. 

Table 1The Impact of Climate Change on Weather and the Risk to Agriculture

Impact Risk
Wetter winters More intense storms and rainfall, increased likelihood and magnitude of river and coastal flooding
Drier summers  Water shortages in summer, heat stress for animals 
More frequent extreme weather events  Such as storms and droughts.  Risk of fodder shortages, risk of damage to infrastructure 
Increased risk of new pests and diseases of animals and plants  This may make it impractical to grow certain crops because of an increase some diseases and parasites 

Potential Cost Savings & Opportunites

Many of the actions that farmers are being asked to implement to reduce gaseous emissions can also result in cost savings i.e. a win-win situation, with benefits for the environment and the farmer’s pocket.  Amongst other actions, improving EBI, improved grazing management, more days at grass, improved animal health, incorporating clover as well as addressing low soil pH all contribute to reducing gaseous emissions as well as reducing input costs and improving profitability.   

Farming is part of the solution to climate change.  Our soils, our hedgerows and our forestry are all carbon sinks.  This will create opportunities in the future.

Finally, Irish farmers have a long track record of adapting to change and we will do it again to reduce our emissions.  Irish farmers and the industry are committed to playing their part in a national effort to address climate change, by creating a more sustainable industry.