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HomeBeef‘A reduction in our cattle numbers would be devastating to the industry’
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘A reduction in our cattle numbers would be devastating to the industry’

Achieving a 22% reduction in emissions will be “extremely challenging” for the agricultural sector, but any higher than 22% is likely to have a “devastating” economic and social impact on rural Ireland.

That is what Independent TD, Michael Healy-Rae, told the Taoiseach during a recent Leaders’ Questions session, following his recent meeting with members of the Kerry wing of the IFA.

The deputy relayed their concerns in relation to the proposed sector emission ceilings (22-30%) for the Irish agricultural sector.

He told the house that Irish agriculture is “one of the most sustainable” in the world, despite some media commentary suggesting otherwise.

“Irish farmers produce food of the highest quality with a low environmental footprint.”

“Farming and the wider agri-food sector are the backbone of economic activity in rural Ireland.”

He stressed that this is Ireland’s largest indigenous sector, employing in excess of 300,000 people, directly and indirectly.

Emissions reduction

The deputy told the Dáil that during his meeting with IFA members, the farm group said it is “adamant” that the government should set the ceiling for agriculture no higher than an equivalent of a reduction in emissions of 22% compared with 2018 levels.

He pointed to the Climate Action Plan, which provides a pathway to achieve a 22% emissions reduction through new technologies, new practices and improved efficiencies.

He told the house:

“There is no pathway to a 30% emissions reduction that does not result in a significant reduction in cattle numbers at the level of individual farms.”

The deputy stated a 22% emissions reduction would recognise the:

  • The timeframe required for the wide-scale adoption of new technologies;
  • The sector’s “unique” ability to sequester carbon and offset emissions through on-farm renewables that would support other sectors to meet their emissions reduction ceilings.
  • Technical challenges associated with the monitoring, reporting and verifying of emission reductions in agriculture.
IFA report

The IFA report shows that an emission reduction of 22% could have “very significant” consequences for the sector, with a need to decrease livestock numbers, even with the adoption of mitigation measures in the Climate Action Plan.

However, the consequences of a 30% reduction would be “devastating”, he told the house.

“A 12% reduction in livestock numbers, a drop of €3.8 million in output and a loss of more than 56,000 jobs, predominantly rural-based,” would be the result he conveyed.

As set out in the Food Vision 2030 report, there must be a balance between economic, social and environmental sustainability.

“This is most important because we must ensure we protect our family farms and that, whatever happens, it will not lead to a reduction in our cattle numbers because that would be devastating to the industry.”

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