Thomas Duffy, CEJA

Farmers afraid of the unknown

EMISSIONS Technology can help reach some of carbon target, but not all

Farmers will have to be “innovative” to meet the “very challenging” carbon ceiling target, according to one farm body leader.

Dairy farmer Thomas Duffy said there was as much fear as anger amongst farmers as a result of the latest climate targets. Environment Minister Eamon Ryan set the initial ceiling for agriculture at between 22-30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

“I think the general response has been: ‘Okay, this is a cut - what is that going to mean in practical terms?’ That’s why I’d say farmers are more afraid than they are simply angry, because they don’t know what this going to mean for their business,” says Thomas, a vice president of CEJA, the European Council for young farmers.

He paraphrases a comment he recently read: ‘Anyone who’s going to be putting a cow in calf this coming year – she is going to be calving down in 2024’. It’s reflective of how farmers need adequate time to plan to implement changes. He’s frustrated that commentary suggests ‘diversification and forestry’ is the way forward for farmers. He notes the restraints on land types makes crop diversification unsuitable for many Cavan farmers, and adds that the forestry sector has effectively ground to a halt.

“I think the conversation between farmers and environmentalists have degraded very badly over the last three years – particularly over the CAP, but very significantly over this as well. I don’t think it’s a very constructive place where we are at the moment,” he adds.

When the conversation turns to how farmers can meet the carbon cuts, he reaches for his CEJA hat: “It’s going to be very challenging, especially how you balance fairness for young farmers with, what they keep talking about, the stability of the national herd.

“We need to ensure there is enough flexibility there for young farmers to grow their businesses while at the same time understanding that ultimately these are now the budgets that we have to work to - they will be legally binding.”

Thomas Duffy is confident that technology will prove vital in meeting the majority of this first carbon emissions cut.

Teagasc agree. Last week they noted that many farmers have already begun reducing emissions by implementing the “proven technologies” outlined in their Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC).

“Understanding and adopting the technologies and actions that can make a difference towards achieving climate targets will be critical,” said Dr Stan Lalor of Teagasc. “Teagasc will be focussing its efforts on farmers and the wider industry to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to implement climate mitigation, biodiversity enhancement and adaptation practices.”

Thomas isn’t convinced technology provides the full answer: “There is a reasonable assessment that with the technology we have at the moment we would be well able to achieve a 15% reduction,” he says, noting that getting the buy-in from “every farmer”, and making the technology available to all farmers will present challenges.

“Potentially we could do that, but then there’s another seven per cent there, so that’s going to be more challenging and we are going to have to be a bit more creative and innovative in what we do.”

He adds that reducing the age of slaughter will play a significant role, particularly in terms of dealing with methane emissions.

“A lot of that will come down to the standard of beef coming from the dairy herd, because a lot of suckler farmers, and a lot of farmers who have pure beef animals are probably able to produce a much lower slaughter age already.

“And the reality is there aren’t the proper incentives at the moment - the 30 month cut off is seen as very onerous on farmers, and it’s not a very good tool to reduce the age of slaughter profitably. That’s something that industry needs to look at,” says Thomas.