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The Future of Farming starts now – Farmers can do their bit to slow Climate Change

10 September 2021
Type Media Article

By Glen Corbett, B&T Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare

Children as young as seven years old in our National Schools are being taught the realities of Climate Change. In truth, it’s their generation that will have to deal with the fallout it will cause.  How can there be unprecedented wildfires on the west coast of the US while and at the same time people on the east coast of the US are leaving their houses in boats because there is 10 ft. plus of flood water outside. Meanwhile, it has rained in the Arctic Circle for the first time ever as it wasn’t cold enough for snow and if you go swimming off the west coast of Ireland, the Jellyfish population will crowd you out.

The Signpost Programme:

The Teagasc method of involving farmers and informing them on the issue of Climate Change is called the Signpost Programme. It aims to get farmers to incorporate climate actions to achieve early progress in reducing gaseous emissions from Irish agriculture. As a consequence what is also targeted is improved water quality and biodiversity and more profitable and sustainable farm enterprises. To attain a more sustainable farming system, the key issue will be reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and Ammonia emissions from farms.

To transfer knowledge to farmers, a network of Signpost Farms have been chosen across the country and from all farm enterprises. The Signpost Advisory Campaign which is about to get underway will use these farms as hubs to engage all farmers in adopting new methods and technologies. More information can be sought at www.teagasc.ie/signpost

Reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and Ammonia emissions from farms:

In short, the 2 main GHGs from agriculture are methane and nitrous oxide CH4 and N2O from fertiliser, animal manures and rumination. Ammonia, known also as NH3 is not a Greenhouse gas as such but is harmful to the environment.

Protected Urea:

So what are the few key things farmers can do to reduce emissions on their holdings? Firstly the use of Protected Urea, should be considered. It works by slowing the rate at which urea is converted to ammonium. It is cheaper than CAN and unlike regular Urea it can be used throughout the year. Replace all straight nitrogen (N) use with Protected Urea.

Grazing Management:

Animals grazing better quality forage produce less GHG as there is less silage in the diet, less bulk and more quality we would say. Also, every additional week at grass reduces total GHG emissions by 1%. Improving efficiencies will leave more money in your pocket, for example there is a value of €173 put on every extra tonne of Dry Matter (DM) grown and utilised.

Low Emission Slurry Spreading:

This method of spreading slurry is becoming more popular all the time as contractors invest in this equipment. Examples are the trailing shoe system, dribble bar and umbilical system. LESS as it’s called reduces ammonia emissions by 30% and nitrous oxide emissions through reduced chemical N use.

Incorporating White Clover:

The fourth mitigation action I will mention is using more white clover on farm in our swards. This can reduce Nitrous Oxide emissions by up to 40% due to reduced chemical N fertiliser use. It is easy to incorporate and is very persistent and hardy and suitable across all enterprises from dairy to sheep and cattle by just tweaking the varieties of clover chosen.

Reduce Costs:

It also makes financial sense to maximise organic fertiliser use as chemical fertiliser prices have risen considerably in the past 12 months and are up to €100/ton more expensive. They are a valuable source of nutrient for the farmer and can help reduce the overall farm fertiliser bill. For example the guide fertiliser value of 1,000gls of cattle slurry is €25, equivalent to 1 Bag of 6.5.30 NPK (this value is dependent on Dry Matter content of slurry and timing of application). In order to maximise the efficiency of organic fertilisers spread on your farm, it is recommended to apply them in accordance with a Nutrient Management Plan. This will ensure that organic manures are targeted to fields that have sub-optimal fertility.


Organic fertilisers can be a valuable asset on a farm, but only if managed correctly. When spread, organic fertiliser is either absorbed by soil and plants or lost to air and water. By minimising losses through careful application, farmers can retain more nutrients, reduce sward contamination and reduce the fertiliser bill on the farm. This will increase farm profit while helping to protect our air, atmosphere and water quality.