‘We’re not the big bad wolf’ – Donegal farmers

The Irish Farmers’ Association dairy representative for Donegal has said farmers want to be part of a climate change solution but fears the sector is being “wrongly scapegoated”.
The agriculture sector accounts for 37 per cent of all emissions, according to new EPA data. It has been targeted with a reduction of 30 per cent over the next nine years as part of proposals contained in the government’s Climate Action Plan.
According to Teagasc, a further 200,000 dairy cows will be on Irish farms by 2027. Dairy cows expel high levels of methane, which is the most harmful of all greenhouse gases. It has between 28 and 36 times the warming potential of CO2 over 100 years, according to the International Energy Agency.
In 2020, the number of dairy cows on Irish farms rose for the 10th consecutive year, climbing by 3.2 per cent, according to the EPA.  Experts say a big policy shift is needed to achieve such reductions.
There are between 200 and 300 dairy farmers in Donegal. Speaking to the Donegal News, Ian Witherow said the farming sector is not working against change, but said it does not want to be labelled as “the big bad wolf”.
He said: Farmers, like everyone else, are very conscious there is an issue with climate change and we want to be a part of the solution, but we feel we are being wrongly scapegoated. We aren’t the big bad wolf.
“Farmers in Donegal are very concerned. Every source of news they pick up at the minute, whether it be via social media or in a hard copy, they are being faced with emissions, carbon footprints and methane relating to farming. It’s very overwhelming.”
Mr Witherow said farmers in Donegal have already taken action to stem climate change.
“We have measures in place already  including more efficient breeding, milk recording and younger slaughter age.
“It is possible for us to turn our attention to electric, we have the capacity to put solar panels on our roofs but ESB isn’t yet set up to take it back to the grid.”
Mr Witherow said Donegal farmers are “trying our  best”, but he said they need government support, as well as support from the public and general consumer.
“We feel the agriculture sector is low hanging fruit, but it will take time to implement a lot of changes going forward and farmers are prepared to do this but it still has to be environmentally viable. It’s in our interest to find solutions.”
He said the IFA wants more direct contact with the government and other associated bodies for clarity.
“There is no better place than Ireland to produce food. It is the intention of the IFA to sit down with the government to get a handle on the targets that are circulating.
“It is a worrying time for farmers, and the older generation of farmers find it particularly difficult. Producing food will have a carbon footprint but we feel Ireland has a lot of transparency in this area, more-so than other countries.”
Meanwhile, a cross-border initiative launched by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Stormont’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neilll will bring together experts on both sides to research how to address climate and biodiversity emergencies. The All-Island Climate and Biodiversity Research Network (AICBRN) will “significantly ramp up collaborative research activity”.

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