It’s been just over 100 years since the first combustion tractor engine rolled through an Irish field. Over the past 100 years, our great agri-food sector has become a center of technology, research and continuous development.
Even Henry Ford, whose roots can be traced back to a West Cork farm and who developed the truly pioneering Fordson T tractor, could hardly have imagined the advances the agricultural sector has made over the last century.
The agri-food sector is engaged in some of the most exciting and innovative climate and environmental research. It is a hive of innovation and development. This work is supported by funding from my department and is carried out by various research organizations, including our state agency for agricultural research and development, Teagasc.
In 1900, agriculture in Ireland was underdeveloped compared to our urban and more industrialized neighbours. But that changed drastically in the 20th century, as agriculture has gone through a series of evolutions and, indeed, revolutions since then.
The tractor replaced the horse. The combine harvester replaced the thrasher. Even when baled silage and wrapping became the new kid on the block in the mid-1980s, it seemed like a monumental change for many farmers.
There were many who said, “it couldn’t be done, it couldn’t happen”. But it could be done. It happened. This is why we must look ambitiously towards achieving our 2030 climate target.
In response to the climate crisis, this government has agreed to halve Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 at the latest.
On Thursday, the government agreed caps for emissions from each sector of the economy.
These set maximum greenhouse gas emission limits for each sector until the end of this decade. As a contribution to the overall 51% reduction in emissions, the agricultural sector will need to reduce its emissions by 25% by 2030, compared to 2018 levels.
Both the government program and the climate law recognize the special economic and social role of agriculture. The government decision sets ambitious emission reduction targets at all levels, but recognizes the importance of sustainable food production.
I think this goal reflects a very ambitious but ultimately achievable ambition for the sector. There are already identified actions that will help reduce emissions.
These are being adopted by farmers right now, while, as I said earlier, science and technology solutions are also evolving, supported by our research funding. I am confident that breakthroughs in areas such as food additives will provide a viable and workable solution over the next few years.
Agriculture is about to have its vaccine moment. We are on the verge of developing a technology that will play a crucial role in reducing our emissions over the next decade. There is also clear recognition of the key role agriculture can and will play in decarbonizing our energy system.
In addition to making rapid developments in technologies, there will be significant opportunities like anaerobic digestion (AD), solar energy and forestry which will provide opportunities for farmers who wish to consider additional sources of income, while contributing to our energy systems.
Working with colleagues across government, my priority now is to ensure that the right policy framework for reducing emissions is in place.
By the end of the decade, a significant portion of the people reading this article, either on their phones or at the kitchen table with an electric kettle on in the background, could be powered by electricity produced on Irish farms. Food processors could use heat generated from grass and animal and food waste.
It’s a very exciting prospect.
Irish food products have an unparalleled international reputation. The emissions reduction target we have agreed for agriculture is in line with our environmental ambition and consumer expectations, but at the same time ensures that we continue to produce the high quality food that a growing world population needs.
The sector has been on a journey of reducing emissions over the past few years. As the sectoral emissions cap marks another milestone in ambition, we can be confident that the sector will deliver and continue to produce world-class products.
My priority has always been to have an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable rural economy, helping family farms contribute to our global climate ambition and leaving no one behind.
I am very proud that the agricultural sector is the first sector in Ireland to produce a credible roadmap transitioning the sector towards our long-term ambition of climate neutrality by 2050, fully in line with the commitments of the program for the government. The roadmap – AgClimatise – will continue to play a central role as we move forward on this journey.
But it’s fair to say that we need to step up the ambition within AgClimatise and do even more. As I have always done, I will engage meaningfully with farmers and their representatives to chart this roadmap to 2030.
It will be a decade of change for Irish farming, but I can assure farming families that in 10 years, if not 20 years and beyond, the production of high quality meat and dairy protein will remain the foundation of Irish agriculture. -food industry.
This will also be supported by our own ambition for a vibrant tillage sector. We have set ourselves an ambitious goal for the next decade, but it is achievable.
Government setting of cross-sectoral targets is not the end of the journey, it is not even the start of one. Farmers and this sector have been on the path to reducing emissions for many years, but we are now stepping up those ambitions.
I will support farm families and this government will too over the next decade to achieve our ambitious goals.
We will support you every step of the way.