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Sustainability performance of Irish farms in 2021 revealed

At the start of Teagasc Sustainability Week, Teagasc released its latest sustainability report focusing on the year 2021.

The report uses the Teagasc National Farm Survey to track the performance of dairy, cattle, sheep and tillage farms across Ireland to understand changes in their economic, environmental and social sustainability. In addition to data for 2021, the report also includes data covering much of the last decade, to illustrate the changes that have occurred over the period.

Lead author of the report, Dr. Cathal Buckley, Teagasc Rural Economy and Development Programme noted; “We continue to see an increase in dairy output, dairy incomes and dairy greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while we observe smaller changes in the output, incomes and emissions across the other farm types. However, there is greater evidence in the report for 2021 that actions to address gaseous emissions are being adopted, particularly by dairy farmers. For example on an aggregate basis 48% of all slurry applied on farms was via Low Emissions Slurry Spreading (LESS) equipment. For dairy farms the comparable figure was 74%. This transition to LESS has helped lower ammonia emissions across all farm systems. However, the uptake of other desirable practices such transition to protected urea chemical fertilisers remains low.”

Comparing farm performance for recent years, Trevor Donnellan, Head of the Agricultural Economics and Farm Surveys Department in Teagasc, and co-author of the report however noted: “From a socio-economic point of view, the improvement in farm incomes in 2021 has meant that a larger share of the farm population can be considered sustainable in an economic context. However, the report shows that there was an increase in farm level greenhouse emissions in 2021, it should be noted that much of this was driven by the increased use of lime by farmers in addition to an increase in stocking rates. The use of lime is an important step in improving fertiliser use efficiency and lowering farm fertiliser requirements in future years. Given that the report relates to 2021, fertiliser use had yet to fall in response to the dramatic rise in fertiliser prices over the last 12 months.”

At the report launch, Dr. Emma Dillon, Teagasc Rural Economy and Development Programme, presented developments in social sustainability measurement through the Teagasc National Farm Survey including data on health and wellbeing, connectivity and community engagement.” She stated; “the social dimension of sustainability is reflective of its holistic nature and its importance is increasingly emphasised in agricultural and broader policy”.

Commenting on the release of the report, Teagasc Director, Professor Frank O’Mara, stated; “The Sustainability Report is a vital resource which demonstrates farm performance in an economic, environmental and social content across the various farm systems. It is important that the methodology used in the report evolves so that it remains consistent with the internationally recognised approach to the calculation of the various measures that are included. Allied with our Signpost Programme, the Sustainability Report provides us with the means to enhance the sustainability of Irish agriculture.”

The full 2021 Sustainability Report can be viewed at:  https://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2022/National-Farm-Survey---2021-Sustainability-Report.php