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Challenge to Reduce Agricultural Emissions

12 January 2009

IRELAND - Teagasc is the leading national research and development agency working on the agri-environment.

Speaking at an environment conference in Dublin Castle, Teagasc Director Professor Gerry Boyle said that one of Teagasc’s central goals is to support sustainable farming and improve the environment. He pointed out that about €10.4 million is devoted to research on the agri-environment by Teagasc each year, while advisers provide good farm practice advice and REPS planning services to farmers across the country.

Professor Boyle was speaking at the IIEA conference entitled “The Greening of Irish Agriculture – Responding to the Challenge of Climate Change” which took place on Friday, 9 January, in Dublin Castle.

Gerry Boyle said that Ireland’s profile of greenhouse gasses is unusual in the developed world due to the importance of agriculture in the economy. Methane is the main agricultural greenhouse gas produced in Ireland, mainly from enteric fermentation or digestion in the forestomach of ruminants such as cattle and sheep. It is the natural by-product of the digestion of feeds particularly fibrous ones.

Some of the challenges in reducing agricultural emissions were outlined by the Teagasc Director, who warned that reducing emissions in Ireland by reducing food production will cause leakage to whatever country increases food production with no net benefit to the global environment. He also argued that there is no logic in the agricultural sector not gaining the benefit of credits for afforestation and biomass production for bioenergy, as it is farmers that will be altering their land use practices if energy crops are produced.

He said that there are economic, social and moral implications of reducing the livestock herd to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Teagasc is looking at abatement strategies to reduce emissions, but new technical solutions require a sustained research effort. Gerry Boyle said that some reductions in greenhouse gases can be brought about by more efficient livestock production systems and he outlined a range of agronomic practices that can result in a reduction. Pointing out that through the intensive promotion of these technologies it is feasible on dairy farms to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions per litre of milk produced by somewhere between 20 and 50 per cent over a relatively short time period.

Technological advances in dairy production have led to a drop of 12.4 per cent in the amount of methane produced per kilo of milk produced between 1990 and 2006, demonstrating the relationship between greater efficiency and reduced emissions.

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