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‘Unless you want a situation like the Netherlands, pull back’ – farmer’s message to Ryan

Vincent Roddy, INHFA national present, has penned a letter to Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, over emission reduction targets.

In the letter, he described current proposals surrounding climate change targets as of “major concern” to members and rural communities.

He said that the farm group farming represents thousands of members on hills, lowland, and high nature value lands.

He referred to proposals demanding a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for agriculture of between 22 and 30%.

Roddy said that it is his understanding that Minister Ryan and the Green Party are “determined” to see a 30% reduction in agriculture.

In the letter, he outlined: “You have outlined that this is necessary to ensure other sectors of the economy and households are not over-burdened through potential GHG reductions and possible penalties.”

“In driving this narrative, the finger of blame is being pointed at farmers, who are understandably quite annoyed at the divisive manner in which the debate is being conducted.”

“Moreover, we should all recognise that the targets set for each sector were decided on by the Government and Oireachtas without any consultation.

“It is very wrong to blame the farming community for targets they never agreed to and never got the opportunity to engage on.”

As the debate on sectoral targets proceeds, and with it increased demands on our farmers, it is “essential” that there is due consideration relating to “key” points before any discussions surrounding reductions, he added.

He then went on to list the points of concern.

Carbon balance 

Firstly, he said that in calculating our agricultural emissions, the carbon balance for producing that food apply as part of Ireland’s GHG emissions.

However, oil or oil by-products such as diesel, petrol or home heating oil, which Ireland imports, are also applied as part of Ireland’s GHG emissions, he said.

“How is this acceptable? To us, it seems reasonable that any calculation of GHG emissions should choose between consumption or production. Unfortunately, we are being hit on the double.”

“For Ireland, where we export 85% of our agricultural products and other major exporting countries such as New Zealand and the Netherlands, this is a major concern.”

Then, he asked if, deciding on these calculations, did countries with higher population densities push to have this methodology applied.

“Why has the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) accepted this model when clearly it is unjust?” he asked.

“How does this model reduce food waste, which is a major contributor to GHG emissions, and should be a global priority in any discussion around climate change? Finally, why did Ireland accept this when it discriminates against us?”

‘Mistake’ to separate ag from land use

In deciding on the sectoral targets, it is a major mistake to separate agriculture from land use, the farm group argues.

In doing this, you immediately reduced options to farmers to offset their GHG emissions, he claims.

“This is totally unacceptable and must be revisited. Currently, we see large corporations and some of our multiples making the claim they are carbon neutral or going carbon neutral.”

“This is based on their ability to offset GHG emissions, most probably through a land use strategy, while farmers with a major land base are denied this opportunity.”

Extensive grazing systems

He added then when striving to deliver improved environmental outcomes, it is “vital” that we recognise the benefits of extensive grazing systems.

He pointed to a 2018 report by the EU Commission titled ‘Grazing for Carbon,’, which “clearly outlined these benefits”.

The executive summary states:

“A quick literature review showed that there is net C sequestration within grassland systems in general, but in a mixed grazing and cutting system, there is less carbon sequestration than under pure grazing.”

“Based on this and the overall report, sustainable grazing as practised through extensive farming systems by many suckler and sheep farmers will not only deliver an end product in terms of beef but will also deliver in terms of carbon sequestration, he explained.

In addition, these farming systems are low in terms of chemical fertiliser input and organic manure, all of which benefit the overall environment.

IPCC model

When calculating our GHG emissions, Ireland has favoured the IPCC model as opposed to the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

By choosing this model, he believes we are undermining grass-fed, and our naturally reared suckler systems.

The farm leader pointed to a paper: Evaluation of the effect of accounting method, IPCC vs LCA, on grass-based and confinement dairy systems’ greenhouse gas emissions’.

It stated that the LCA method calculated that the grass-based system saw “significantly lower emissions” levels.

It contradicts the IPCC method that calculated lower emissions from the confinement system.

However, the paper identifies the LCA approach as the preferred approach to assess the effect of management changes on GHG emissions.

Reassess calculation models

Before we proceed with any recommendations, he said it is “vital” that we reassess calculation models. The decision to use the IPCC model when Teagasc research has indicated that the LCA model is “a better option”, in his view.

Roddy also referred to a recent Oireachtas hearing on methane, where he says two groups of academics giving scientific evidence were “not in agreement” with each other’s calculation methods.

Based on the Oireachtas discussion, he stated that it is “quite clear” that the science is still evolving.

Divisive voice

In striving to play our part in addressing the challenge climate change, poses, it is “vital” that you as minister and the government apply “equal measures” to all sectors of the economy, he requested.

“In the last number of weeks, you have clearly failed to do this. Instead of becoming a unifying force, you have become a divisive one.”

He explained that farmers are “very angry” on this issue but also very informed – not just with regard to what is happening in Ireland but further afield.

“Unless you want a situation like there is in the Netherlands, I would advise you to pull back. Ensure your government commences a constructive engagement with the farming community and their representatives,” the letter concluded.

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