Food Vision Dairy Group recommends a 30% reduction in nitrogen by 2025

The Food Vision Dairy group now recommends that the dairy sector reduce the use of chemical nitrogen (N) by 30% in the short term.

Previously, the group recommended a target of 35% by 2025, which was called “unrealistic” for dairy farmers.

The group’s draft final interim report now calls for a 35% reduction in the use of chemical nitrogen in the sector by the end of the decade.

It will now be sent to Agriculture, Food and Navy Minister Charlie McConalogue before the group meets again later this month.

Food Vision Dairy Group

The body, created by the minister at the end of January, is tasked with examining ways for the dairy sector to help achieve the agricultural and land use targets of the 2021 Climate Action Plan.

Chaired by former Teagasc Director Professor Gerry Boyle, it includes representatives from agricultural organisations, the cooperative and dairy processing sector, state agencies, University College Dublin (UCD) and Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) officials.

In total, the document lists 17 recommended actions for the dairy sector.

Like the group’s previous draft report, the recommendations are defined in the short, medium and long term and correspond to the three proposed carbon budget periods.

The full list of recommendations is as follows:

  • Consider a voluntary retirement/de-intensification plan;
  • Explore the potential of an emissions cap and trade model;
  • Explore the possibility of measuring and monitoring carbon production at the farm level;
  • Reduce the use of chemical nitrogen in the dairy sector by 30% in the short term (2025), with a reduction target of 35% in the medium term (2030);
  • Achieve 100% replacement rate of CAN with protected urea by the end of 2025 for grass-based dairy production systems;
  • Develop methane mitigating power technologies;
  • Develop breeding strategies that mitigate methane;
  • Adopt a common cooperative charter on sustainable dairy production that underpins the family farm model;
  • Increase investment in climate change research and knowledge transfer (KT) and establish a Climate Change Research Liaison Group (CCRLG) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
  • Design a communication strategy on climate action;
  • Increased adoption of low emission slurry application (LESS) – 100% adoption of LESS for all dairy cow organic fertilizers by 2025;
  • Ensure 100% of dairy farms perform soil testing for pH by 2025;
  • Drive adoption of clover and multi-species grasslands (MSS) – ensure that all dairy farmers have incorporated clover/multi-species on 20% of their agricultural grasslands by the end of 2025;
  • Dairy recording – strive to achieve a 90% adoption rate by the end of 2025;
  • Develop opportunities for energy diversification;
  • All cooperatives must adopt sustainability programs by 2025;
  • Implement animal health measures listed in action 314 of the 2021 Climate Plan.

Along with adjusting the chemical nitrogen targets, the revised draft report increased the replacement rate of CAN with protected urea from 80% to 100%, while the milk recording target increased from 100 % to 90%.

The report also includes a recommendation for a “de-intensification patternwhich would allow farmers to voluntarily exit dairy production or reduce their number of dairy cows for a minimum number of years.

The suggested system would operate over a contract period and provide an annual payment per cow based on verified emission reductions.

The group recommended that the commitment be linked to the herd and the operation.

“The benefit would be a reduction in the number of cows resulting in a direct impact on emissions,” the report states.

The farmer could diversify into other areas of agricultural activity not associated with ruminant farming.

The report notes that a number of group members raised concerns about an earlier version of the measure.

Overall, the group acknowledged that “further work will be needed to clarify how the measures identified can be implemented in practice”.

It also stresses “the crucial importance of ensuring the maintenance of livelihoods
for current and future generations of Irish dairies and existing family farms”.

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