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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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‘One big challenge is to reduce reliance on imported, fossil fuel derived fertilisers’

There are a large number of proven technologies available to improve environmental sustainability on Irish farms.

That is one of the key messages Teagasc conveyed to farmers at its recent Farming for a Better Future – Technologies for Today and Tomorrow open day at Johnstown Castle on Tuesday, August 30th, 2022.

Farmers could see and hear first-hand how they can adopt technology in their own enterprises to improve farm sustainability and profitability.

They heard that future research is investigating newer technologies to further improve sustainability.

David Wall and Karl Richards of Teagasc, Crops Environment, and Land-use Research, Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford, looked at challenges and opportunities for sustainability on Irish farms.

They looked at water quality, biodiversity, reducing nitrogen fertiliser utilisation, livestock production systems and greenhouse gas emissions.

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They told farmers: “Ireland has set very challenging environmental targets such as reducing greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions, improving water quality, reversing the decline in farmland biodiversity.”

“The trends in emissions, water quality and biodiversity continue to decrease or remain static. We urgently need to work together to implement technologies known to reverse these trends.”

“Farmers need technologies that allow them to combine economic and environmental sustainability,” the spokesperson added.

Feed additives and lower meta when emitting animals

In terms of livestock production systems, the advisors touched on the following improvements as means to reduce emissions.

  • Grazing management;
  • Reducing the age of slaughter;
  • Breeding efficient animals;
  • Increasing home-grown feed supplementation.

They also referenced feed additives, which are currently being tested, and breeding lower methane emitting animals for Irish farming systems.

Then, they told farmers that “one big challenge is to dramatically reduce reliance on imported, fossil fuel derived fertilisers”.

They highlighted the importance of using LESS, optimising soil fertility as it releases circa 70kg N/ha from the soil and reduces fertiliser requirements.

“Where chemical N is used, then replacing CAN and urea with protected urea can reduce emissions by over 70%.”

“New research is showing lower emissions when certain low nitrate compound fertilisers are used, and that optimal soil fertility can directly reduce emissions by c. 40%,” they added.

At the open day, they admitted that the 25% greenhouse gas reduction target will be “extremely challenging” and the recent emissions increases “will have to be reversed”.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) from nitrogen fertiliser, manures and urine, they explained, accounts for c. 30% of agricultural emissions.

The remaining 70% comes from slurry management and directly from the animals, the state agency told farmers.

Agricultural soils, they pointed out, are a source of emission in the land use and forestry part of the inventory. Carbon sequestered in our mineral soils is four times lower than the carbon lost from agricultural peat soils, they claim.

They pointed to mediums to increase carbon sequestration, such as increasing trees on farms through on-farm forestry, agro-forestry and hedgerow management.

Water quality and biodiversity 

In the area of water quality, they told farmers there are a “large” number of technologies available for farmers to control nutrient loss from farmyards, hard standings and diffuse losses from fields.

New technologies have been developed to reduce nutrient and sediment loss to water from farm roadways.

The Agricultural Catchments has developed a new “critical” source area tool for highlighting areas for farmers to address on their farms.

Furthermore, the Agricultural Support and Advisory service provide free advice to farmers on appropriate technologies in areas with poor water quality.

In terms of biodiversity, the state agency suggested some ways that farmers can actively improve habitats and wildlife on their farms to achieve the 10% target.

Examples include:

  • Multi-species swards;
  • Hedgerow management;
  • Field margins;
  • Result-based payments for biodiversity.

Other articles on That’s Farming:

‘Find time for leisure, holidays and family’ – Teagasc tells beef farmers

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