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Teagasc Pathway to Reducing GHG Emissions

The Climate Action Plan of 4th November clarified sectoral emission reduction targets for agriculture and land-use. Tom O’Dwyer, Head of Signpost Programme focuses on the steps needed for agriculture to deliver on its targets. Teagasc Director, Frank O'Mara outlined these at the Beef Conference also

A mix of policies (from Government), incentives (from Government and industry) and advisory support (from Teagasc and other similar organisations) will be needed. The Signpost Programme will play a key role in enabling farmers to incorporate climate mitigation technologies into their farming systems.
While the overall economy has a target of reducing emissions by 51% by 2030, the agriculture sector was allocated a target of reducing GHG emissions by between 22 and 30% in the same period. It is also noteworthy that the land use sector (referred to as land use, land use change and forestry or LULUCF) has a separate emissions reduction target. While farmers effectively manage both sectors, from the Climate Action Plan perspective, they are treated separately. The baseline year for measuring progress against is 2018, with GHG emissions from the agriculture and LULUCF sectors in that year of 23.0 and 4.8 Mt CO2 -e, respectively.

Table 1: Agriculture and LULUCF Sectoral GHG Reduction Targets

Future targets are all very well, but in and of themselves, won’t deliver emissions reduction.

Teagasc envisages three stages in the transition

Stage 1 involves the adoption by farmers of the technologies that are currently available. These include technologies such as: protected urea, improved utilisation of slurry (both timing of application and method), reduced N fertiliser use (through improved soil fertility, the incorporation of clover and better grassland management), liming, improved animal genetics and improved animal performance (including a focus on overall animal health, milk recording and weight recording). These measures are estimated to have the potential to reduce emissions by up to 2 Mt CO2-e or by 9% compared to the baseline. The Signpost Programme partners, including Teagasc, will work to enable farmers identify ways in which these technologies can be incorporated into their farming systems.

Stage 2 involves the roll-out and adoption of almost ready technologies. These are currently under research or in development, and Teagasc expects them to be available in the medium term (within five years). These include technologies such as:

  • Feed additives for indoor diets
  • Increased usage of low N fertiliser compounds
  • Earlier age at slaughter

Combined, Teagasc estimates that there is the potential to reduce GHG emissions by a further 1 to 1.5 (and potentially up to 2.0 Mt) Mt CO2-e through the adoption of these.

Finally, Stage 3 involves significant further research before the roll-out and adoption of early stage technologies, in the second part of the decade.The technologies included here are:

  • Feed additives at pasture
  • Breeding lower emitting animals

These technologies could reduce GHG emissions by a further 1 to 1.5 Mt CO2 -e

Figure 1 illustrates the three stages, while also indicating that reducing GHG emissions by 51% by 2030 is only part of the journey to net zero agriculture by 2050.

Land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF)

And finally, a word on LULUCF. In the Climate Action Plan, it is treated as a separate sector, currently emitting 4.8 Mt CO2 -e. It is predicted that emissions from this sector will increase as forestry sequestration decreases over this decade. It has a separate target to cut GHG emissions by 37 to 58% by 2030. As a separate sector, sequestration will not contribute to the agricultural GHG reduction requirements (outlined above). However, land use, and diversification of land use, will play a role in reducing overall emissions – reduced , it is something that is likely to happen at a more gradual pace.

In summary, reducing a farm’s GHG emissions is a long-term process, but there can be some quick wins. We need to focus on achieving those quick wins by working together to adopt the currently available mitigation technologies; let’s make a start today. Research will bring forward more solutions in the future.

To find out more see Signpost Programme

Watch below as Teagasc Director, Frank O'Mara outlined a Pathway for the Beef Industry at the Beef Conference recently

To find out more check out the National Beef Conference 2021