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The ICOS Report “Positive steps towards a low carbon future for the Irish dairy sector” reviews the current situation for Irish dairy farmers and includes the following 11 recommendations for the Government, State agencies and wider industry:

1. Knowledge sharing through an increase in funding for extension and advisory services targeted at addressing climate change and other sustainability challenges – ICOS believes that additional support should be used to establish a structured knowledge sharing programme on climate change including one to one engagement and discussion group formats. A detailed understanding of the reasons limiting the adoption of effective mitigation measures should also be carried out.

2. EU Budget – The continuation of a well-resourced and strong Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post 2020, which supports active farmers is absolutely essential. Expenditure cuts to the CAP budget will have a detrimental impact on the ability of the agricultural sector to adopt climate change mitigation measures.

3. Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme – The achievement of full certification under the SDAS is an achievable and realistic ambition, and should be completed in 2018.

4. Incentivising carbon efficient food production – While recognising the ongoing need to reduce emissions from agriculture, ICOS supports the development of new and innovative policy options to encourage the consumption of carbon efficient foods.

5. Nutrient Management – There is significant scope to improve soil fertility levels in Ireland. The health of our soil is a key factor in the production of food in an environmental and sustainable manner.

6. Sexed Semen – Extensive availability of sexed semen (which predetermines the gender of the calf) offers significant potential to maximise dairy heifer calf numbers, while also facilitating increased usage of quality beef bulls, reducing the carbon footprint of the national herd.

7. Biodiversity – Sustainability without biodiversity is not sustainability. Irish farmland systems have a unique competitive advantage when it comes to biodiversity and wildlife. In the context of the Reform of the CAP, farmers should be incentivised to maintain a habitat management plan on their farms on a voluntary basis.

8. Afforestation – Ireland has a target to increase forest cover from 11% of total land area to 18% by 2046. This will require an additional 450,000 ha under forestry by mid-century. There is real potential for afforestation in Ireland to offset farm based emissions. However, the targets established will not be achieved without a significant increase in planting from current levels. The report also recommends the development of a worthwhile agro forestry initiative for livestock farmers to grow native trees.

9. Energy Efficiency – Milk pre-cooling and variable speed drives for milking machine vacuum pumps can deliver significant savings in electricity costs and carbon emissions. ICOS also recommends the greater availability of three phase power at reasonable cost in rural areas to enable greater uptake of energy efficient technologies on farms, as well as on farm renewable energy infrastructure.

10. Renewable Energy – ICOS fully agrees with the vision set out by the EPA that every farm can be its own power plant. There is an overwhelming need for transformational thinking to deal with climate change. Unfortunately, the reality is that the current renewable energy options at farm level are uneconomical. Among other measures including grant assistance, sensible financial tools are required to stimulate widespread uptake of on farm renewable energy projects including biogas from anaerobic digestion and solar panels on farm buildings. ICOS also urges the Government to prioritise the establishment of community led and co-operative projects in the area of renewable energy and micro generation.

11. Research and Technology – Despite the factors limiting carbon mitigation in agriculture, there is a clear need to fund new research and develop new technologies designed to reduce emissions from agriculture. There are exciting innovations in this sphere at different stages of development, which requires ongoing support. These include extracting valorisation from agricultural manure, LIDAR imaging technology to measure carbon sequestration, innovative dietary strategies such as the role of seaweed in reducing methane emissions, smart grassland systems using multi species swards and precision agriculture technology.

A copy of the report can be viewed here: http://icos.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Positive-Steps-Towards-a-Low-Carbon-Future-for-the-Irish-Dairy-Sector.pdf

Eamonn Farrell

Agri-Food Policy Executive