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Agriculture, the Bioeconomy and Climate Action

Published: 19 December 2019
From: Department of the Taoiseach


1. Introduction

Agriculture and food production is central to everyday Irish life, culture and the economy. The agri-food sector employs some 165,000 people (8.5% of employment in 2016) and is also responsible for around 7.6% of Ireland’s economy wide gross value added (GVA). Primary agriculture, forestry and fishing account for around 1.6% of Ireland’s GVA.

Agriculture was responsible for 34% of Ireland's greenhouse gas (CHG) emissions in 2018. The main source of emissions come from:

  • Methane belched by cattle and sheep as they digest feed in the rumen.
  • Nitrogen containing fertilisers that release some nitrous oxide after application.
  • Manures like slurry release methane and nitrous oxide during storage and land spreading.
  • Animal faeces and urine deposited on pastures release some nitrous oxide.
  • Diesel for agricultural machinery emits carbon dioxide as does the generation of electricity used on farms.

Emissions from the sector have been increasing in recent years (for the latest GHG reporting, click here ). The most significant drivers for increased emissions are higher dairy cow numbers and corresponding increases in milk production. This reflects national ambitions to expand milk production and the removal of the milk quota in 2015.

In 2018, there were also increased CO2 emissions from fertiliser application on soils, while total fossil fuel consumption in agriculture/forestry activities also increased.

The large proportion occupied by agriculture in the Irish emissions profile is highly unusual in an international context. This is due principally to the dominance of ruminant agriculture here. The need to address emissions from the sector is ever pressing in a climate action context.

Irish agriculture has a positive international reputation in terms of the carbon intensity of its dairy and beef output (lower than many countries due to the grass-based nature of the system here). However, despite our carbon efficiency in this area, these are still products with a high carbon footprint. Maintaining a “green” brand image is critically important to an agri-food sector that is dependent to a very significant extent on export earnings.

How we achieve carbon neutrality in the agriculture sector will involve GHG emissions reduction, but also increased carbon-removals, including for example, through forestry planting that absorbs CO2. Click here for more information on what government is doing to promote forestry in Ireland.

2. Ambitions and targets

Key measures set out in the Climate Action Plan to improve the agricultural sector, include to:

  • Deliver substantial verifiable greenhouse gas abatement through adoption of a specified range of improvements in farming practice in line with recommendations from Teagasc including:
- Improve efficiency of farming (e.g. through animal genetics, better grassland utilisation, getting soil pH right, etc),
- switching to a form of urea fertiliser, protected urea, which significantly cuts down emissions of nitrous oxide compared to CAN, and
- spreading as much slurry as possible in the springtime, and using a low emissions way of spreading such as the trailing shoe or trailing hose.
  • Deliver expansion of forestry planting and soil management to ensure that carbon abatement from land-use is delivered over the period 2021 to 2030 and in the years beyond.
  • Support diversification within Agriculture and land use to develop sustainable and circular value chains and business models for lower carbon intensity farming. This includes organic production, protection and enhancement of biodiversity and water quality, and the production of bio-based products and bioenergy through the Common Agricultural Policy and implementation of the National Policy Statement on the Bioeconomy.

For an overview of key Climate Action Plan measures as related to agriculture and prepared by Teagasc, click here .

3. Actions completed to date

  • Publication of Ag-Climatise consultation (Action 110):The Climate Action Plan demands active engagement with all stakeholders to develop a roadmap to ensure the future development of the agriculture and land-use (including forestry) sector will be built on environmental sustainability, and contribute fairly to Ireland’s climate, air and energy targets. 'Ag-Climatise' - A Draft National Climate & Air Roadmap for the Agriculture Sector to 2030 sets out such a draft roadmap and was launched for public consultation on 17 November 2019.
  • Enhance the capability of the agricultural catchment programme to monitor emissions across farming systems (Action 105): The Agricultural Catchments Programme (ACP) was established to monitor the effectiveness of measures to protect and review water quality with respect to Nitrates in particular. The current ACP is operational to the end of 2019 and works in partnership with over 300 farmers in six intensively farmed catchments. The continuation of the ACP for a further four-year period to 2023 was announced on 18 November 2019. This next phase will now also collect data on GHG emissions, ammonia emissions and soil carbon sequestration, as well as extending the current baseline monitoring of water quality.
  • Establish research programme into feed additives, in grass based production systems (Action 106): As part of the 2019 Research Call, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine included a number of topics which directly address measures aimed at establishing further research into slurry amendments, impact on GHG/ammonia emissions and potential impact on soil fertility and quality.
  • Supporting the maximum possible environment and climate ambition in the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy negotiations (Action 103): Changes in producer payments from the EU will signal the necessary direction of travel and change required in agriculture. While there have been delays to the CAP process at EU level, Ireland continues to contribute and drive high ambition in this space.


1. Introduction

The bioeconomy encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bio-energy. It includes agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and pulp and paper production, as well as parts of chemical, biotechnological and energy industries.

Its sectors have a strong innovation potential to diversify agriculture and support Ireland's transition to a more integrated sustainable, low carbon economy.

In 2018, Ireland published a National Policy Statement on the Bioeconomy . More information on what government is doing to support bioeconomy development can also be found here .

Teagasc, the agriculture and development authority, conducted significant research in this area, used to underpin the national policy statement, including mapping out value chain opportunities for the Irish bioeconomy. More detail can be found here .

The BEACON Bioeconomy Research Centre is a €17.8m Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) funded Research Centre performing fundamental and applied research in collaboration with industries for the development of a sustainable Irish bioeconomy.

2. Ambitions and targets

Key measures set out in the Climate Action Plan to support the development of the bioeconomy, include to:

  • Examine the circular bioeconomy potential of harnessing value from side-streams from both agriculture and forestry (Action 117): sectoral coherence, network and awareness raising, research and innovation engagement to be undertaken by the National Bioeconomy Implementation Group .
  • Support Regional Assemblies to identify areas of potential growth in the bioeconomy (Action 124).
  • Identify and commence delivery of measures to address the key regulatory barriers to the development of the bioeconomy, including exploring opportunities to establish “End of Waste” criteria for certain bio-waste (Action 144).

3. Actions completed to date

  • Regional bioeconomy development: The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) have co-funded two research projects Agri Bio Circular Economy and BioCircle that are focused on regional bioeconomy development.
  • Assess the current legislative definition of waste: Impacts of current legislative definition of waste (set at EU level) on bioeconomy sector have now been examined by DAFM and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Energy (DCCAE), and scope of the definition, as well as existing possibilities for alternative categorisation of potential feedstocks as 'by-products' and/or 'animal by-products' has been clarified. A guidance note in relation to this issue is being finalised which will inform discussions with stakeholders.
  • Hosting Bioeconomy Ireland Week (11 – 18 October 2019): Led by DAFM and DCCAE, Bioeconomy Ireland Week placed a spotlight on Ireland’s Bioeconomy through a series of events and activities.

Please click here to return to the main climate action page.