Our natural resources are facing increasing pressures. Producing additional food, whilst maintaining and restoring biodiversity and water quality to its highest potential and reducing net carbon emissions, is a significant challenge. However, Food Wise 2025 has confirmed the role of sustainability at the heart of Irish agricultural production and embraced the principle of sustainable intensification.
Significant action has been taken to drive down the emissions intensity of Ireland’s livestock production notably through the Rural Development Programme (2014-2020), strongly targeted towards environmental benefits, including Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS), Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS), knowledge transfer programmes and initiatives such as the Beef Data Genomics Programme and the Forestry Programme. Such strategies have led to production output increasing while GHG emissions decrease.
A National Mitigation Plan is being prepared under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. The agriculture and forest sector is one of the key contributors to this Plan and has actively engaged in the process. Agriculture and forest sector mitigation measures have been submitted for inclusion in this first iteration of the Plan which is due for publication imminently.
The ambition that Ireland should be a global leader in sustainable food production, building on our natural advantages, is shared by the Government, farmers and food industry alike. Initiatives such as those mentioned above, implemented by DAFM, plus the Origin Green programme, and Teagasc’s research on climate change and environment, all contribute to improving the environmental, as well as the economic and social, sustainability of the sector.
The work of the Food Wise Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC) involves evaluating the delivery of the environmental sustainability and mitigation actions in Food Wise and providing advice in relation to sustainability.
Since its inception the Committee has considered key sustainability issues and is now considering how best to coordinate and collate this information. The ESC identified that there are significant environmental efforts being made across the sector and are looking at how best to deliver key messages around sustainability and policy interventions. Part of this work will include making recommendations to the HLIC around issues to be considered in any future agri-food strategy.
An adaptation workshop was held in November 2016 as part of the Committee’s commitment to hold an annual stake holder work shop. This event took the form of an open policy debate under the Civil Service Renewal Programme. The objective of the event was to discuss and debate the climate change adaptation challenges facing the Irish agriculture and forest sector, share information and consider actions and commitments that may be necessary in the context of the changing climatic conditions. The session closed following a very constructive panel discussion which reflected on both the challenges to building resilience and the opportunities afforded by the changing climate. The workshop discussion is informing the further development of the draft adaptation roadmap for the sector.
The Committe has agreed in principle to adopt the Year of Sustainable Grassland theme for its second annual stakeholder workshop which will be held later in the year.
In order to assess the environmental impact of farming, and appraise progress towards improved performance, environmental sustainability metrics must be derived for a large number of farms across a number of years. The Teagasc National Farm Survey (NFS) provides a reliable annual data source across a nationally representative sample of farms from which these environmental metrics can be developed.
Currently Teagasc is leading on a stimulus project funded by DAFM entitled ‘Proofing Relevant Indicator Data to Evaluate the Sustainability of Irish Food’. This project, due for completion in December 2017, examines the current and future need for Irish sustainability metrics at farm, product and sector level across economic, environmental, social and innovation dimensions. The project will engage with stakeholders to assess the current and likely future demand for sustainability metrics from the perspective of agricultural, rural development and environmental policy and also in the context of the domestic and international promotion of Irish food, resulting in the development of objective, rigorous and nationally representative metrics of sustainability.
Developments in terms of Irish food production will be assessed in the context of their implications for future sustainability, providing valuable information for policy formulation.
DAFM hosted an open policy debate on the environmental challenges for the Irish beef and dairy sectors in July 2016. The objective of the event was to discuss and debate the challenges facing the Irish beef and dairy sectors, share information and consider actions and commitments that may be necessary in the context of the EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework and other environmental considerations relating to biodiversity and water quality. The session included a very constructive Q&A session where both the sustainability challenges and the opportunities were acknowledged.
In July 2016, the European Commission published its proposals for a new Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) and Land Use Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) regulation together with a very detailed technical impact assessment on reducing greenhouse gases across the EU to 2030.
Of particular note to agriculture recognising its multiple objectives and lower mitigation potential, the proposals set out the rules of what new and additional LULUCF credits can be used to assist Member States in achieving their targets under the proposed ESR and sets a cap on the extent to which these credits can be used to ensure the overall EU Climate and Energy Framework (CEF) 2030 target is not diluted. This flexibility is an effort to broaden the “toolbox” of abatement options available to achieve targets, in particular for Member States where existing abatement measures are costly and action in the LULUCF sector, that encourages removals and limits emissions, may present a more cost effective option.
The proposal continues to be discussed at working party level with amendments being proposed by Member States. DAFM is engaging closely with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, to represent Ireland’s views in this area.
The new National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive entered into force on 31 December 2016. The main implementing measure is the National Air Pollution Control Programme, which the Member States must produce by 31 March 2019.
In March this year the European Commission held its first ever Clean Air Dialogue with Ireland to promote actions to improve air quality and contribute to Ireland’s implementation of EU clean air legislation. The Department of the Communications, Climate Action and Environment subsequently held a public consultation on the National Clean Air Strategy. The Clean Air Strategy will provide the strategic policy framework necessary to identify and promote the integrated measures across government policy that are required to reduce air pollution and promote cleaner air while delivering on wider national objectives.
In mid-2016, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agreed to prepare a special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems as part of their 6th assessment cycle work program. From an Irish perspective given the high profile of agricultural emission in our inventory, it is very important that the special report considers the synergies between adaptation and mitigation especially given the lower mitigation potential of agriculture. Additionally, it is important that sustainable land management is considered to include food production, based on a UN definition.
With a view to assess the state of knowledge in a manner that would facilitate the work of the IPCC, Ireland together with New Zealand supported the organisation of a Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) / Global Research Alliance (GRA) symposium in January 2017. This facilitated the FAO and GRA to collate a synthesis of the most up to date state of science on these topics which can now be incorporated into the IPCC process and subject to their review and assessment procedures.
Ireland hosted the scoping meeting to discuss the outline and structure of this special report. The opportunity to host the event arose in part due to the culture of cooperation that has been fostered by the Government in terms of the holistic approach to addressing climate change and engaging on key strategies like Food Wise 2025. This joined up approach has created the enabling environment in which key stakeholders including the EPA, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment and the DAFM are working together to pursue a common vision.
The Water Network was established as an important action under Food Wise 2025. Its purpose was to provide strategic direction and leadership to strengthen the parallel delivery of good water quality and safe sustainable food production.
The third Stakeholder Water Forum was held on 2 March, 2017, and provided the opportunity for DAFM to discuss with all relevant stakeholders its water-related activities in realising Food Wise 2025 ambitions along with meeting obligations under the EU Water Framework Directive. The Forum provided the opportunity for organisations to share their perspective, to identify gaps in their collective knowledge and to understand how to build and improve linkages between relevant organisations in order to maximise the effectiveness of our collective work
The main vehicle for driving sustainable agricultural production in Ireland is the Rural Development Programme
Research is critical in progressing state of art technologies to improve both the carbon efficiency and climate resilience of Irish agriculture. Irish agricultural GHG research is focused on developing an improved understanding of the key processes involved in the production of methane and N 2 O emissions; identifying promising mitigation options (such as dietary strategies, manure management, fertiliser technologies as well as researching future technologies; quantifying the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural soils;); improving the national GHG inventories regarding forestry and agriculture.
Over €17.1 million in funding has been committed under DAFM’s three research funding programmes (FIRM, RSF and COFORD) in the sustainable land management, bioeconomy and GHG related areas arising from DAFM’s Research Calls.
Additionally the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI) brought together 14 of its member countries in a European Research Area Network Cofund for Monitoring & Mitigation of GHG’s from Agri- and Silvi-culture (ERA-GAS). Ireland has played a central role in this Call with Teagasc having overall coordination and management responsibility and DAFM managing the evaluation process. 10 projects were approved for €12.6m in funding in May 2017, with Irish partners participating in five of these projects
1. Origin Green
The Beef & Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme and the Egg Quality Assurance Scheme have both been revised as the “Sustainable Beef & Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS)” and the “Sustainable Egg Assurance Scheme (SEAS)” and have received accreditation. R evision of the Pig Quality Assurance Scheme and the Poultry Quality Assurance Scheme to include sustainability criteria has also commenced. It is expected that both of these schemes will be finalised and accredited as Sustainable Assurance Schemes by the end of 2017. The revised Sustainable Horticulture Assurance Scheme (grower and packer modules) is currently for assessment and accreditation. These schemes will join SBLAS, SEAS and the existing Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) so that by the end of 2017 all producer schemes will have been upgraded to “Sustainability” schemes
Bord Bia is working with the Carbon Trust to develop a tool similar to the Carbon Navigator, which is in use for the beef and lamb sector to drive improvement at the farm level for the egg, poultry and pig sectors by measuring the carbon footprint of individual farms.
Since carbon audits began, there has been a sustained reduction in the average carbon footprint of both beef and dairy farms. On a cumulative basis, the average carbon footprint of dairy farms has gone from 1.21kg CO2 e/kg of fat & protein corrected milk in 2014 to 1.14kg CO2 e/kg in 2016. For beef farms, the average carbon footprint has reduced from 11.79 per kg of beef liveweight to 11.58 per kg of beef liveweight in the same period, with strong potential for further improvement. In order to further assess the level of data being gathered throughout the Origin Green programme, Bord Bia has appointed a Sustainability Data Analyst to join the existing sustainability team. This will enable the large volume of data gathered at farm level to be evaluated in greater detail, with the aim of further boosting performance at farm level. Anal ysis will extend beyond carbon footprint calculation to include biodiversity and water use.
The Origin Green Ambassador Programme has been instrumental in enhancing the reputation of the Irish food and drink industry as a source of highly quality, sustainably produced food and drink. This is demonstrated by the fact that all host organisations have been to Ireland on at least one occasion to see for themselves what Origin Green is all about. In many cases the Ambassador programme have provided the catalyst for Irish companies to build stronger relationships with host organisations. This is in addition to positioning Ireland as a thought leader in the areas of sustainable food production systems.
2. BIM’s Responsibly Sourced Seafood Scheme
BIM’s Responsibly Sourced Seafood Scheme compliments Bord Bia’s Origin Green Sustainability Scheme. In the development of Origin Green plans, Irish seafood companies set targets around their raw material sourcing and operational impacts. It is therefore important to source from seafood suppliers with recognised certifications. BIM’s RSS Fishing Vessel Standard provides an accredited, independently certified raw material supply as part of these plans. To date 25 vessels have obtained certification under BIM’s RSS scheme with a further 32 applicant vessels, the majority of whom are scheduled for audit in 2017. In addition two onshore intermediaries have gained certification with a further four operators preparing for audit.
3. Biodiversity Pilot Project
Many Irish agri-food companies are seeking environmental accreditation through benchmarking against internationally recognised standards e.g. Sustainability Assessment Initiative (SAI) Platform. A common requirement of environmental accreditation standards that include biodiversity is the provision of a farm habitat map. Traditionally, habitat surveys involve visits to individual farms, which is expensive and time-consuming. Teagasc has been working closely with Bord Bia on a pilot project to develop cost-effective and scalable methods to map farm habitats. Farmers were invited to participate in the project, with a total of 187 dairy, beef and arable farms.
4. Nutrient Management Planning
Nutrient Management Planning (NMP) Online has become the single system for providing nutrient management plans to farmers. It is now the designated system for submitting NMPs for GLAS (Green, Low- Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme) and Nitrates derogation to the Department and is extensively used for completing agronomic plans for farmers. It is proposed that the system will become a key element of the Irish Dairy Industry Association (IDIA) sponsored Dairy Sustainability Initiative which envisages that all dairy farmers would have a comprehensive nutrient management plan aimed at reducing nutrient loss to water and the atmosphere.
The system was designed by Teagasc with input from farmers. The importance of effective nutrient management is highlighted by the fact that approximately 50% of nutrient loss to water comes from agriculture and that approximately 10% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from organic and chemical fertilisers. Impr oving the management of nutrients at farm level has the capacity to significantly impact the outcomes in relation to our two most important and challenging environmental problems.