Teagasc National Agri-Environment Conference
Meeting the ever increasing challenges of supporting Irish agriculture to deliver increased output and improved environmental outcomes is the main focus of the Teagasc National Agri-Environment Conference in Tullamore today, Thursday, 13 November. Pat Murphy, Teagasc Head of Environment Knowledge Transfer said that the varied line-up of conference speakers outline those challenges and the new policy initiatives to address them, provide significant new insights into environmental improvements that have been achieved, outline new technologies with a capacity for further improvement and focuses on the key role of knowledge transfer in achieving environmental outcomes.
There are signs of stabilisation and improvement in water quality in Ireland in recent years following a general declining trend in the preceding decades. This coincides with the introduction of a broad range of initiatives to address declining water quality including improvements in urban and domestic waste water treatment and, in the agricultural sector, initiatives such as REPS and the Good Agricultural Practice measures under the Nitrates Directive.
Ger Shortle, Manager, Teagasc Agricultural Catchments Programme said: ”This programme is continually improving our understanding of the processes that drive nutrient loss at catchment scale and showing where changes in management can improve efficiencies and reduce risks to water. For example simple changes in the management of open drains could cut phosphorus (P) losses and automated systems for identifying Critical Source Areas on farms could focus attention on these small areas, thus reducing nutrient loss risk, while facilitating intensive production on the rest of the farm.”
Dr Helen Sheridan, School of Agriculture and Food, UCD showed that approximately 14% of grassland farm area has been retained as semi natural habitat. The challenge for policy makers is to ensure that the future development of the agricultural sector, or any particular component of it, does not jeopardise the continued existence of this diversity. Ireland has competitive advantage with respect to biodiversity and this should be exploited to strengthen the link between biodiversity and Irish produce in the minds of consumers.
Jerome Walsh of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine outlined the elements of the revised Common Agricultural Policy which add to the existing policy framework and will be beneficial for biodiversity and water quality. The Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs), Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition of land (GAECs) and new greening elements, provide a broad range of benefits under Pillar I of the CAP, and these are built upon by a number of both complementary and targeted measures under Pillar II, that offer more tailored solutions to meeting biodiversity and water quality objectives.
Irish agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are dominated by methane from ruminants and manures and nitrous oxide from fertiliser and animal deposition. While emissions have been falling steadily (-17.6%) since 1998, the sector remains a significant proportion (32%) of total national GHG emissions. Dr Karl Richards, Head of Teagasc Environment, Soils and Land Use Department, Johnstown Castle said:”Teagasc has ranked mitigation strategies based on efficacy and economic cost/benefit in a Marginal Abatement Cost Curve and these strategies have the potential to hold methane and nitrous emissions steady despite increases in future production. Indeed, when allied to sequestration from forestry and grassland soils, sectoral emissions can be reduced. Ultimately a mosaic of strategies that combine improved efficiencies, low-emission technologies and carbon sequestration will be required to further reduce agricultural GHG intensity.”
John Muldowney of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine outlined proposed initiatives under the Rural Development Programme to tackle emissions. These include the inclusion of GHG initiatives into the Knowledge Transfer initiative and the beef genomics scheme, the introduction of GLAS and support for emissions reducing capital investment.
The conference featured significant new research from Teagasc focusing on technologies with the capacity to improve environmental outcomes, on the assessment of the level of achievement of environmental objectives and on supporting the adoption of improved practices and compliance at farm level.
An econometric analysis was presented by Head of Teagasc Rural Economy and Development programme, Professor Cathal O’Donoghue. It explored the effects of land use, geomorphological and climatic variables on river water quality and indicates that the effect of agricultural activities such as livestock, cereal and pig production is significantly reducing over time.
Dr David Wall, Teagasc researcher Johnstown Castle, outlined work on the effect of Nitrogen (N) fertiliser formulation and inhibitors on N efficiency and GHG emissions. He presented results that are contrary to accepted wisdom in the industry, that urea based N fertilisers produce grass yields comparable to CAN fertiliser throughout the year. He also outlined how the use of urea based N fertilisers show promise for reducing N2O emission risk relative to CAN.
Dr Brendan Horan, Teagasc researcher Moorepark, demonstrated that implementing a number of agronomic changes led to improved groundwater quality over the 10 year period. These included reductions in inorganic fertiliser usage, improvements in timing of slurry application, the movement of a dairy soiled water irrigator to less vulnerable areas of the farm, and the usage of minimum cultivation reseeding on the farm.