Greater integration of technological-based farming is most likely to form part of the response to the much-talked-about Climate Action Bill, says agri lecturer Joseph Croke
OUR farming community is understandably greatly concerned with the potential impact of the Climate Action Bill (Cab) on farm enterprises and livelihoods.
But what impact will it have on farming?
Agriculture, as a sector has certainly always risen to meet challenges, becoming more efficient, providing food security, and arguably more cost effectively than any sector of the economy.
We have all been hearing about the climate emergency and the green recovery.
Outside of the Cab, consumers now desire not only low cost food, but food that is sustainably produced and fits a healthy, nutritious lifestyle.
Research is ongoing by many entities to assist the transition.
Munster Technological University Cork and Kerry (MTU) are researching ways to grow crops with better nutrition for human and farm animal consumption (biofortification), and with Teagasc, partners on many areas including lowering methane emissions from dairy and beef animals.
Greater integration of technological-based farming is most likely to form part of the response to the Climate Action Bill if we are to achieve the proposed sectoral roadmap of 58.4Mt CO2 eq outside Emissions Trading System, 17 Mt CO2 eq inside and 26.8 Mt CO2 eq land use reductions by 2030.
Young farmer education will become even more important, to address future complex technological solutions used to reduce environmental and biodiversity impact. Deadlines on emissions and biodiversity targets reportedly will be released over the coming months.
Certainly, a change from a yield focused only to a quality emphasis production chain with positive eco/enviro symbols might be likely and reflect Irish agriculture’s good position technologically and in traceability giving higher financial returns.
Biodiversity is undoubtably the more important of all the future changes.
And our representatives will need to understand funding must be increased to make these changes and they must deliver that message. Perhaps funding should come separately from a climate emergency fund, reflecting the change from low cost food producers to being caretakers of the environment, storing carbon and protecting biodiversity for all Europe’s citizens.
Some possible changes for farming due to the Climate Action Bill might see activities and supports based firstly on minimising negative environment impact and maximising biodiversity becoming the norm.
Beef and lamb might also need to be finished in shorter times (sustainable intensification), with stabilisation of the national herd numbers and/or use of feed supplements to minimise ruminant derived methane (some initial research is promising but certainly 5/10 years off); a primary emphasis on farm biodiversity; soil to fork marketing chain which will have environmental impact measured at each step with all parties including processors having to incorporate good practice.
Other changes could include: fundamental activities we all know will have to be done correctly, and more often eg soil pH.
Over 40% of Irish soils require liming to better optimise soil life and release valuable crop nutrients, drainage.
Also on the cards could be some enterprise diversification, adding high value horticulture, vegetables, fruit, cut foliage or medicinal crops (many medicines in pharmacies are crop-derived).
Reduced chemical nutrient inputs (Nitrogen reduction min. 20%) might be replaced by cyclic organic nutrient sources, combined with the use of soil life eg Mycorrhiza fungi, growth promoting bacteria applied possibly through conventional fertiliser spreaders and using more clover and N fixers showing higher net margins in some research; also reduced pesticides replaced by biological controls, compost teas sprays and crop rotations, and greater biodiversity in grass systems, deep rooting members bring nutrients and water from deeper soil zones, pollinator friendly, N fixing etc.
Furthermore, we may see: cover crops between tillage crops to protect soil, build soil structure leading to better following crop outcomes and carbon sequestration.
Also, no long term bare soils; hopefully, greater production in high protein crops to replace some animal feed with long transport; soil carbon storage especially in peat soils, possible Biochar incorporation into mineral soils.
Bord Na Mona has already stopped peat harvesting and this will assist our national carbon account significantly. But we may also see more efficient farm equipment, some autonomous tractors and greater soil sampling (nutrients, pH, maybe microbes in future) across fields can deliver more exacting fertilisers/ lime in field areas; possibly less disease in farmers and farm families from pesticide use, who possibly have paid a bigger personal price to date than the consumer.
And of course … more loved documentation, but a more sustainable future ecologically and economically!
• Joseph Croke is a lecturer in agriculture, agri-biosciences and horticulture degree programmes at MTU.
• See next week’s Southern Star for full details of our 2021 Farming Awards, which this year will include a sustainability category. Coverage in next week’s paper will include entry forms.