Food Wise 2025


Chapter 4 - Sustainability

Ireland’s agri-food sector through its farmers, fishermen and forestry owners manages the vast majority of the natural resources in Ireland. This places the sector in a unique position of delivering many public goods and social benefits which contribute to the wellbeing of the country. Irish producers are playing, and must continue to play, a vital and positive role in the protection and the potential further enhancement of Ireland’s landscapes, waterways, biodiversity and air quality, while measures such as the discard ban and the setting of fishing levels on the principle of maximum sustainable yield are directed at ending overfishing and protecting the marine environment.  The future development of the diverse agri-food sector in Ireland must therefore continue to be based on policies and approaches which enhance the provision of these public goods and maximise the continued economic, social and environmental sustainability of these natural resources. 

In a global environment which is facing many challenges including an ever increasing demand for food, increasing constraints on natural resources and the emerging challenges of Climate Change the Irish agri-food sector is well placed to continue to play an important role in meeting these challenges at national, EU and global levels. This is due to the sector’s capacity to produce high quality, safe, nutritious foods and products in an environmentally sustainable manner while at the same time delivering economic growth in rural areas and coastal areas.

Ireland does however face significant challenges in meeting some national and international environmental targets for air quality, biodiversity and water quality. Agriculture has a key role to play in contributing to meeting these targets. Meeting Greenhouse Gas (GHG) and ammonia emission reduction targets will be particularly challenging, but arresting biodiversity losses and continuing the improvement of water quality while increasing production will be equally demanding.

These challenges must be addressed if the growth potential of the sector is to be realised in an environmentally efficient and sustainable manner. The ambition of this strategy is that the sector is not only committed to meeting its various obligations set out in the framework of relevant environmental legislation, but also the sector aim to achieve higher standards to underscore its sustainability credentials. The continued growth of the Agri-food sector must be based on sustainable intensification, a concept included in the conclusions of the October 2014 EU Council on the 2030 EU Climate and Energy Policy Framework.

Sustainable intensification leverages the strengths of the sector by improving productivity while using natural resources in a manner which protects them into the future.  This will require the ongoing strong commitment of the sector to adapt through embracing and applying the latest innovations, new technologies and processes.

A key fundamental underpinning the sector’s continued growth potential is our grass-fed livestock production system which provides a significant comparative advantage in terms of cost competitiveness and environmental efficiency. These production methods ensures the highest quality safe raw materials are produced for export to markets around the world while doing it in a more environmentally efficient manner than production systems used in other parts of the world. 

In an expanding production scenario, in particular in the dairy and seafood sectors, as envisaged moving towards 2025, the environmental challenges will be greater, with increased inputs and competition for limited land and marine resources being key pressures. If Ireland wishes to remain a world leader in the production, management and marketing of low-carbon, high-quality sustainable food, then significant efforts will be required to maximise production efficiency whilst minimising the effects on the environment and declines in biodiversity.

The appropriate nurturing and strengthening of the sustainability credentials of Ireland’s production systems in parallel with increases in production levels will ensure that the comparative advantages of the sector are maximised for the Irish economy and environment into the future. The sustainability credentials of the sector must continue to be measured and benchmarked to underpin their validity and ensure that these credentials can continue to be enhanced, underwritten by strong records and data.  This will require continued investment in monitoring systems, investment in science based research which demonstrates that Irish production systems are environmentally sustainable, the rollout of new technologies and production processes, the transfer of knowledge to all actors in the supply chain so that the necessary productivity efficiencies are achieved while being focussed on delivering sustainability and maximising enhanced economic, social and environmental benefits from the sector.

A guiding principle to meet these sustainability goals will be that environmental protection and economic competiveness will be considered as equal and complementary, one will not be achieved at the expense of the other. The three pillars of sustainability - social, economic and environmental - are equally important and carry commensurate weight ensuring that as the sector continues to develop and grow this development will be undertaken in the context of addressing environmental challenges.

The 2025 strategy is focussed on developing technologies and processes which support a vision of  sustainable intensification.  This strategy will support continued investment in environmentally sustainable approaches to agriculture, food and forestry production based on the latest scientific evidence and targeted at delivering public goods, economic growth and supporting the development of sustainable rural and coastal local communities.

Science-based research programmes provide the basis for technology transfer to stakeholders. Further development of scientific knowledge will help close the verification gap and demonstrate that Irish producers are producing milk, meat, fish and crops in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner. This scientific verification can, in turn, further bolster Ireland’s green credentials in the context of anticipated environmental pressures from expanding production. As such Ireland should aim to be a world leader in sustainable agriculture and in doing so lay out a framework to scientifically underpin Origin Green.  Improved knowledge transfer and improved policy integration will be important in communicating research findings, which is crucial in order to effectively increase the use of scientific-based knowledge to influence the uptake of best management practices by producers.   

In parallel to the development of the 2025 strategy the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine commissioned an Environmental Analysis, incorporating a Strategic Environmental Assessment and an Appropriate Assessment. This analysis was informed by a scoping consultation period which included a scoping workshop with key stakeholders. The Environmental Analysis has helped inform the 2025 report. This strategy proposes the following recommendations and actions to support the sustainable growth of the sector up to 2025.



Recognising Agriculture’s role in ongoing National, EU and International Climate Change and Energy Policy Development


  • DAFM to finalise a sectoral plan for agriculture and forestry to inform the National Mitigation Plan under the National Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Bill.

  • At EU level continue to promote and seek agreement on an Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) approach to the treatment of the land sector in UN climate change negotiations and continue to support discussions on agriculture under the Convention’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

  • DAFM to continue active participation in multi-stakeholder ‘Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture’ which is promoting the application of climate smart approaches to agriculture production systems.

  • DAFM to continue to work closely with DCENR, as part of National Bioenergy Plan discussions, to assess supply side issues related to the potential of bioenergy from the agriculture and forestry sectors and develop farm-scale renewables. DAFM will continue to support afforestation and mobilisation measures under the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 and encourage the innovative use of animal by-products (ABP) for energy production. 

  • As part of EU Climate and Energy Framework (CEF) 2030 negotiations DAFM will continue to seek acknowledgment of realistic ambition for agriculture and clarity on the role of other land uses as a mitigation tool in Ireland and in particular its role in contributing to the achievement of overall emissions targets to 2030.

  • DAFM in conjunction with other agencies should maximise their use of scientific expertise to actively engage in international networks and research groups to find new ways to account for and reduce emissions.



Measurement of Ireland’s environmental sustainability credentials


  • Continued updating on an annual basis of Teagasc National Farm Survey sustainability indicators, including further development of a wider spectrum of appropriate indicators and activity data to more accurately measure environmental sustainability and contribute to development and enhancement of GHG and ammonia inventories.

  • Review and update key agri-environmental indicators, the accuracy of which are crucial to a) understanding trends in how nutrient losses to water and to air are partitioned, and, b) to assisting the cost-effective targeting of mitigation measures.

  • Update Teagasc’s Marginal Abatement Cost Curve for Irish agriculture on a more frequent basis to ensure the latest technological developments help inform an assessment of a wider range of GHG mitigation measures that could be rolled out at farm level.

  • Continue to enhance and roll out at farm level the Carbon Navigator Initiative which provides online software to assist farmers in understanding how their farms produce GHG emissions, identify mitigation capacity and to set targets and a pathway to reduce emissions. Teagasc in conjunction with other stakeholders to examine whether the navigator tool could be used to measure other important environmental parameters such as biodiversity.

  • Bord Bia to further develop the range and depth of sustainability information collected for beef, dairy and other primary agricultural sectors using its auditing infrastructure

  • Seafood sector to adapt and enhance the existing independent third party verified standards such as BIM’s Quality Assurance Programmes, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), organic certification and green manufacturing to facilitate measurement of its environmental credentials.



Further Development and Enhancement of Origin Green Programme


DAFM to work with Bord Bia and other stakeholders on the future evolution of the Origin Green Programme and to further develop and enhance its effectiveness as watermark brand and key marketing tool of the Irish Agri-food sector’s environmental sustainability credentials based on a suite of quantitative measures. Investment in science and technology must continue to support the ambition of the Origin Green Programme to ensure it remains underpinned by a strong scientific evidence base.
At producer level -

  • Examine how monitoring and measurement in areas such as soil health, nutrient management, biodiversity, animal health, herd performance and welfare and sustainable sources of animal feed can be used to enhance effectiveness of Origin Green.

  • Improve knowledge transfer and exchange to farmers by developing a network across all State agencies and relevant advisory bodies to deliver clear, coordinated science-based advice on how farmers can adopt sustainable practices that deliver both environmental and economic benefits.

  • Ensure ongoing funding is made available through national programmes to assist in securing farmer engagement with sustainable practices. This should build on RDP schemes such as Beef Data Genomics and Knowledge Transfer Groups.

  • Develop a messaging programme to communicate the benefits of Origin Green membership to farmer stakeholders to ensure greater adoption and engagement with the programme.

  • Prioritise the process of bringing fishermen into the Origin Green programme using BIM’s responsible fishing standards and other environmental programme as an entry point.

  • Highlight farm profitability measures that can be achieved from participation in Origin Green programme.

At industry level -

  • Continue to develop and enhance the quality assurance standards required for Origin Green.

  • Leverage Origin Green to drive real efficiencies/improvements in respect of energy usage, waste water and food and packaging waste.

  • Increase direct engagement and support offered to companies developing their sustainability plans in order to achieve the target of 450 verified members.  Recruit additional Origin Green advisors to ensure the required level of engagement is delivered.

  • Continue to build on the corporate social responsibility on the sustainability elements of Origin Green with particular focus on health and wellness.

  • Play its part in delivering appropriate messaging and promotion of Origin Green to producers and suppliers.



Improvement of Environmental footprint of Sector


  • Sustained and intensive monitoring of the interface between agri-economic growth and agri-environmental sustainability through continuation and enhancement of the DAFM-funded Teagasc Agricultural Catchments Programme.

  • DAFM to work closely with all stakeholders to ensure that the scientific findings from the Agricultural Catchments Programme are integrated fully and appropriately into agri-environmental policies.

  • DAFM to continue close cooperation with Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) and the EPA on the delivery of the Water Framework Directive, in particular on development of the second phase River Basin Management Plans.

  • Teagasc to develop and rollout  a Nutrient Management software tool to enhance cost-effective use of feed, fertiliser and slurry to minimise nitrogen (nitrate, ammonia and nitrous oxide) and phosphorus losses.

  • Introduce knowledge transfer programmes to improve and broaden awareness levels on the efficient use of nutrients on farms, thereby reducing losses of valuable and costly nutrients to water and to air, so providing for economic and environmental sustainability goals.

  • The feasibility of mainstreaming environmental resource efficiency into a mandatory component of minimum agriculture qualifications to be examined.

  • Teagasc to develop soil specific advice for both organic and inorganic manure use to take account of mineralisation across soils to help inform optimal fertiliser application rates and timing.

  • Teagasc to carry out a soil nutrient census to track soil fertility trends.

  • DAFM to work closely with responsible agencies to monitor potential localised/regionalised impacts of dairy herd expansion on water quality and to develop mitigation measures, in conjunction with the scientific findings from the Agricultural Catchments Programme.

  • Teagasc to enhance PastureBase Ireland tool as a resource to help improve grassland and nitrogen management and increase grass utilisation.

  • Following on from engagement and adoption of the Origin Green programme at farm level, participants in the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Schemes to work to deliver improvements in their carbon footprint, added to the subsequent calculation of improvement on these farms at a macro national level.

  • Seafood Development Programme 2014-2020 (SDP) to provide a framework to take action against the decline of fish stocks through improved fisheries management and the focused implementation of landings obligation requirements.

  • DAFM, SFPA and Industry to develop a suite of measures to promote changed behaviour which will minimise juvenile catch and protect vulnerable stocks.

  • BIM, with support from MI and in collaboration with the SFPA, to intensify its programme of gear selectivity and technical conservation measures, particularly to fulfil landing obligation requirements. 

  • Deliver enhanced stock knowledge and sustainability through the €40m  funding allocated to marine science through the SDP.

  • Take actions under the SDP to improve the environmental sustainability of the inshore fisheries sector.

  • DAFM and Horticulture growers to consider the establishment of an industry and government supported fund to enable relevant research data to be obtained to allow a greater range of more environmentally efficient plant protection products to be authorised for use on various horticultural crops grown in Ireland.



Develop and support Agri-food processing sector in delivering sustainable processes and outputs


  • EU Environmental Aid Scheme 2014-2020 to be targeted at supporting Agri-food companies to invest in initiatives which aim to deliver improved environmental and energy efficiency, increase their uptake of renewable energy technologies and environmental protection systems and research alternative possibilities in relation to energy efficiencies and technologies.

  • As part of the Europe 2020 strategy, BIM will introduce schemes in compliance with the EMFF to support investments in equipment or in fishing or aquaculture vessels aimed at reducing the emission of pollutants or GHG and/or increasing energy efficiency. This may  include support for the modernisation and replacement of fleet engines.

  • At SME level increase the level of environmental awareness relating to regulatory compliance and development of basic management systems related to environmental performance through EI GreenStart programme.

  • Enterprise Ireland will develop the capability of food company managers to drive environmental efficiencies and achieve improved sustainability, through customised management development programmes and through the Green Plus element of Enterprise Ireland Business Process Improvement Grants.

  • Enterprise Ireland to invest in in-company innovation processes, R&D and NPD development programmes, and to support the human and capital infrastructure requirements of that absorptive capacity.

  • Policies and measures to support the mitigation benefits of forest-based biomass and wood products should be established by relevant Departments and agencies.

  • Demand side and supply chain mechanisms should be developed to ensure biomass crops including forest and wood products are brought to market and full market returns realised however demand side measures must not over incentivise particular end users as it may distort market competition.

  • Horizon 2020 is a key source of vital funding and scientific benchmarking for Irish researchers and companies. EI with DAFM to increase the level of participation of Irish companies in the programme.



Implementation of Environmental Elements of Ireland’s National Programmes and the EU co-funded Rural Development Programme 2014-2020


  • Uptake of GLAS should be maximised to help enhance the natural environment through, inter alia, retaining carbon stocks in the soil, margins/habitat preservation and improving water quality to ensure compliance with the Water Framework Directive. Uptake on other RDP initiatives such as, organic farming, priority freshwater pearl mussel catchment sites and the Burren farming for conservation project should also be maximised as separate key RDP enabling instruments to achieve environmental objectives.

  • Invest in evidence-based monitoring and research of agri-environment measures to demonstrate the environmental outputs and identify areas for improvement and/or additional measures.

  • Ongoing research, development and validation of green technologies by research bodies to deliver practical solutions to improve water quality.

  • Promote widespread uptake of on-farm capital investment grants as part of RDP 2014-2020 especially for low emission slurry spreading equipment, farm nutrient storage and animal housing which will help lower emissions and improve water quality.

  • Aim to maximise the number of suckler farmers participating in the Beef Data and Genomics Programme which will help raise awareness of and mitigate GHG emissions from the sector, improve production efficiency and herd quality for suckler sector which will deliver climate change benefits as well as productivity and competitiveness gains.

  • Maximise uptake of allocated funding for the Forestry 2014-2020 Programme to help increase afforestation levels to capture carbon, and sustain the production of forest-based biomass to meet renewable energy targets.

  • With appropriate wider stakeholder involvement, identify any critical gaps in current funding programmes that are blockages to the achievement of key environmental objectives to help optimise the structure of future alternative funding programmes.

  • In relation to the LIFE programme, DAFM will maintain close contact with DECLG, DAHG and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that any biodiversity, climate or water quality actions are appropriately targeted and implemented




Prioritise Research Funding on Sustainability of Irish Food production


  • Agri-food  research funding to prioritise research which:

    • Provides evidence base to quantify the economic, social and environmental sustainability of Irish food production systems and to assess the vulnerability of these systems to climate change.
    • Support strategies and technologies to reduce the impact of food production on water quality.
    • Identifies and evaluates tailored measures which impact positively on biodiversity.
    • Develops and assesses existing and emerging technologies for reducing ammonia and GHG emissions and carbon sequestration in Ireland’s soils, biomass and agricultural systems.
    • Informs a policy review to be initiated on the effects of ammonia restrictions on future increases in livestock numbers and on the demography within the national herd.
    • Develops a holistic approach to data capture, modelling and sustainability assessment of Irish farming and aquaculture systems, including the provision, utilisation and exploitation of verifiable data on the environmental impact and sustainability of grass-based food production and aquaculture in Ireland.
    • Supports the health and nutrition benefits of seafood and grass-based food production.
    • Provides scientific advice and strengthens coherence between public programmes and to inform policy decisions on the benefits of bio-economy solutions.
    • Strengthens environmental measurement and monitoring capacity in particular the potential for sensor and other new emerging technologies.
    • Investigates the ability of a wide range of land use options to sequester carbon.
    • Develops sectoral farm management tools and management systems that optimise on-farm resource use efficiency. These should be aimed at translating the principles of sustainable intensification into tangible practices and at providing the knowledge base for many of the aforementioned recommendations on “Improvement of environmental footprint of the sector”.



Implementation  of 2025 strategy actions in context of sustainability


  • As part of the 2025 implementation phase DAFM will work closely with relevant agencies to ensure appropriate monitoring across all sectors of the agri-food industry on the environmental impacts of 2025 strategy including possible impacts at regional level.  This implementation process will include evaluation and assessment of the delivery of sustainability and mitigation actions set out in the strategy report.

  • DAFM and all state agencies involved in the Agri-food sector will enhance their collective coherence with wider Government policy in respect of implementation of measures, such as RDP measures and Origin Green, to address environmental and sustainability issues.