Has the Department of Agriculture thrown in the towel on climate?

In Agriculture, Blog, Environment by Denis Naughten

We are exporting €8bn in beef and dairy products every year but we are investing only €2m or 0.025% in addressing agricultural methane, which leads to the question: has the Department of Agriculture thrown in the towel already?


While many of us on the constructive side of the climate debate have tried to argue for a practical approach to reducing carbon emissions, we are doing so without the support of the scientific research needed for a sustainable model of Irish agriculture.


At present, the only way to reduce methane from agriculture in any significant way is through herd reduction and the momentum will remain with the anti-cattle element of the environmental lobby until the science supports an alternative approach.


Despite the fact that cattle are worth over €8bn per year in Irish exports there has been little focus on research into addressing emissions from the sector as evidenced by a recent Dáil reply from Minister McConalogue.


Is it any wonder then that Environment Minister Eamon Ryan rejected an amendment that I put forward to the Climate Bill based on the Climate Change Advisory Council recommendation for a separate climate target for agriculture generated (biogenic) methane?


This would have ensured that the agricultural sector does not face a disproportionate share of the climate reduction targets over the coming years.


Despite the recommendation of the Climate Change Advisory Council – and similar approaches being taken by the EU, the UK and interestingly New Zealand a country with similar climate challenges to that faced by Ireland – there was not a single voice at the Dáil’s Climate Committee willing to support my amendment.


Real climate action must be about encouraging people along the climate journey in a constructive and positive way with the aim of achieving the goal we all want: a long-term sustainable planet for our children.


But how can farmers do that if we don’t have the scientific evidence to help support a sustainable approach to climate change?


The failure to put forward an alternative model for Irish farming has given the anti-cattle lobby of so-called environmentalists a free hand at scaremongering, claiming that a unique target for agricultural methane would mean that agriculture and farming would have a free pass.


Nothing could be further from the truth and, as I pointed out to Minister Ryan in the Dáil last week, I represent a part of the Country which has seen the direct impact of climate change. After the second “100 year” flood event in 5-year period, 169 families who looked for voluntary home relocation.  Many of the people concerned had lived for generations in those particular homes and have been forced out because of the changing climatic conditions in this country.


There are many more farmers in a similar situation waiting for the farmyard relocation scheme, promised 5 years ago, to be launched by the Department of Agriculture.


The fact remains that managing our land use better can take even more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing its harmful effects on the climate and the oceans far quicker than shutting down farming, but we still don’t have the science to support such an approach. If the example of funding for agricultural methane is anything to go by, we won’t have such evidence until long after cattle become a rare sight in our fields!



For Written Answer on : 17/06/2021
Question Number(s): 411 Question Reference(s): 32728/21
Department: Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Asked by: Denis Naughten T.D.


To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if he will list the specific funding allocated by his Department on research into the unique characteristics of biogenic methane; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


Climate research remains a key priority for me in my role as Minister.  This commitment was clearly evident in the AgClimatise Roadmap which I published in December 2020. The benefits of research and innovation are clear, a number of new mitigation options have emerged on the back of publically-funded research, for example, protected urea fertiliser to reduce nitrous oxide emissions.

The Department has also been very invested in the research space with regard to biogenic methane investing over €2m in various projects. At a national level, a significant research grant was awarded to a Teagasc coordinated project called Meth-Abate which is looking at novel technologies to reduce methane emissions.

METH-ABATE Development and validation of novel technologies to reduce methane emissions from pasture based Irish agricultural systems €1,248,221.65 Teagasc-GRG (NUIG, QUB, AFBI)

I am also aware of the importance of engaging internationally on collaborative research projects, particularly from a resource efficiency perspective. Through the European Union ERA-NET funding process, the Department has committed funding to seven additional projects which have biogenic methane as a core theme. These projects are listed below:

Acronym Title Total DAFM Grant Award to Irish participants IE Lead and   Collaborating Institutions Partner Countries
MilKey Decision support system for sustainable and GHG   optimised milk production in key European areas €230,658.04 Teagasc (UCD) DE, PL, EL, BE, FR, NO
GrassToGas Grass To Gas: Strategies to mitigate GHG   emissions from pasture based sheep systems €286,518.20 Teagasc (ICBF) UK, FR, NZ, NO, TK, UY
MELS Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from livestock   systems €201,358.20 Teagasc (UCC) DK, PL, UK, NZ, FR, DE, CL
SeaSolutions Seaweeds and seaweed-ingredients to reduce   enteric methane emissions from pasture-based sheep, cattle and dairy cows €300,843.90 Teagasc (ITS) NO, SE, DE, UK, CA
GHG-Manage Managing and reporting of greenhouse gas  emissions and carbon sequestration in different landscape mosaics €236,133.75 UCD  (coordinator) (Teagasc) DE, FR, PL, NL
METHLAB Refining direct fed microbials (DFM) and silage   inoculants for reduction of methane emissions from ruminants €218,920.00 Teagasc  (coordinator) (UCC) FR, NL, NZ, IT
RumenPredict Predicting appropriate GHG mitigation strategies
based on modelling variables that contribute to ruminant environmental impact
€244,418.07 Teagasc (UCD, ICBF) UK, FI, NZ, SE, NL, FR

I remain confident that the outputs of this research will contribute to the overall goal of developing practical solutions that will enable Irish farmers reduce livestock methane emissions over the years ahead.