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Minister Creed's remarks at launch of ICOS Dairy Sustainability Report, 24 January 2018

Speaking Points for Minister Michael Creed at the launch of

“Positive steps toward a low carbon future for the Irish dairy sector” – ICOS Report, 24th of January 2018 in the Plunkett House, 84 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 at 2pm

I would like to welcome you all here today and thank you very much for the invitation by Martin Keane, President of ICOS to attend the launch of a Report called “Positive steps toward a low carbon future for the Irish dairy sector”.

I’m delighted that ICOS is addressing the challenge of climate change.  As a country we face major challenges in meeting our emission targets, and agriculture and forestry will have to do its part in meeting these targets.  Our beef and dairy sectors form a critical part of our economy therefore face a unique challenge. However, unique challenges produce innovative thinking and ground breaking solutions.

It is my firm belief that we are, and must continue to be global leaders in climate smart agriculture and sustainable food production and we are well placed to do just this.Discussed in the report are the challenges facing agriculture as world population increases and as a result the planet will need to produce 70% more food. The report also states that this challenge is intensified by the reality that one third of food produced for human consumption is wasted (CGIAR) and that measures need to be put in place to prevent this.

In Ireland, Agriculture remains the single largest contributor to overall emissions at 33.1% of the total. This proportionate level of agricultural emissions is uniquely high in a European context where the average is 10%. This reflects the importance of agriculture to the Irish economy, the significance of an efficient grass based livestock industry and Ireland’s lack of heavy industry. In the developed world only New Zealand has a higher proportion of emissions from agriculture. 

I am aware that the emissions from the sector have decreased over the period (1990-2016) by 3.5% but it is important that the expansion in the dairy sector does not undo this progress. It should, therefore be acknowledged that emissions increased by 2.7% in 2016, and will have increased in 2017 also. In fact emissions have increased in 4 out of the last 5 years (2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016)  In the 5 year period 2012-2016, dairy cow numbers have increased by 22% and corresponding milk production by 27%, while emissions have increased by just 8%, showing some level of decoupling is occurring, albeit not quickly enough.

On farm efficiency is vital if we are to help reduce emissions, measures such as manure use efficiency and fertiliser efficiency will be key as well as the use of technology such as grass measuring which can be easily adopted at farm level and I believe that what you don’t measure cannot be improved.

As stated in the conclusions of the report we are one of the world’s most efficient food producers in terms of carbon footprint per unit of output, with the joint lowest carbon footprint per unit in the EU for dairy production and joint fifth lowest for beef production. Ireland alone cannot feed the world it is important that people have access to a wide and varied diet - a diet that includes beef and dairy. It is equally important that this produce comes from the most efficient production systems which, given our climate and unique grass based system, Ireland is well placed to deliver.