Head of Signpost Programme, Teagasc
Globally customers want to buy food with a low environmental footprint, and as an exporting country, we need to meet their requirements.
Agriculture in Ireland is dominated by grass-based ruminant livestock production. Dairy, beef and sheep farms make up the bulk of the family farms in Ireland. There are also important pig and poultry industries, concentrated in a relatively small number of units of considerable scale. Crop production is a less significant land use than in much of the European Union (EU) because of climate, farm structures and land suitability. The number of farms with tillage crops, horticulture and forestry are modest.
Feeding a growing population
Irish farmers produce high quality, nutritious and healthy food to feed a growing global population. They also manage our landscapes, while protecting carbon stored in our soils, hedgerows and trees. For generations, farmers have balanced both requirements.
Balancing environmental considerations
Now is the time to show we produce quality food while also caring for the environment. We can continue to play our part in feeding the world without costing the earth. We can do this by managing soil fertility, more carefully using fertiliser nitrogen, improving the recycling of nutrients, increasing the proportion of clover in our grasslands, planting more trees, appropriately managing hedgerows and optimising the capacity of soils to store carbon.
Farmers are part of the solution to the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. Change will be required, new skills are needed and support will be required from Government and the private sector. Change is not always easy, but it is possible. We can change the way we farm. We have changed how we farm before, with farmers showing their willingness to embrace new ways.
Supporting Irish farmers in climate action
Farmers need help and direction if they are to shoulder this essential task. The Signpost Programme is a new, Teagasc-led, collaborative initiative to lead Irish farmers in climate action. While its primary objective is to support Irish farmers in climate action, the programme takes a holistic approach to sustainability and aims to support farmers in improving their environmental, social and economic sustainability. All three pillars of sustainability are important.
While Irish livestock production systems have many positive fundamental attributes, continued improvements are necessary in future to decrease environmental impact. Research has identified some solutions to reduce our agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; the Signpost Programme is ready to support farmers to adopt these solutions. Let’s work together for climate action.