Green politicians claim farm energy plans mean emissions cuts will exceed 25%

Fianna Fáil TDs maintain measures such as solar panels on farms must count towards agriculture emissions target

Green Party politicians have argued that the agriculture sector’s contribution to carbon emissions cuts will be greater than the 25 per cent agreed by Government due to plans for more energy generation on farms.

However, there is a push from some rural Fianna Fáil TDs that farmers’ efforts on renewable energy should be included as part of their cuts rather than those allotted to the energy sector.

The issue has the potential to cause continued internal Coalition tension over carbon emissions targets for agriculture.

Weeks of negotiations between Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue culminated with agreement on a 25 per cent carbon emissions ceiling for the sector.


Mr Ryan had been pushing for closer to 30 per cent while Mr McConalogue had wanted it nearer to 22 per cent.

Farmers are to be incentivised to introduce more environmentally friendly practices as well as to generate renewable energy through solar panels or anaerobic digestion to produce bio-gas.

However, while farmers are to be paid for energy generation on farms, the measure will count towards the emissions cuts for the energy sector rather than agriculture.

Green Party chair Senator Pauline O’Reilly said it had been an “uphill battle” to determine emissions reductions across all sectors and “We need now to see delivery for everyone, including the supports necessary for farmers.”

‘Win-lose’ situation

She added: “Twenty-five per cent is lower than we wanted but the add-ons of energy production from family farms, through anaerobic digestion and solar, increase this significantly to over 30 per cent.”

Her party colleague, junior minister Ossian Smyth said the negotiations had been portrayed as a “win-lose” situation for the environmental movement or farmers.

He said what was important to him was not the number but a credible plan for how emissions cuts would be achieved, while showing how farmer’s incomes could be maintained. A reduction of 25 per cent would have been “unthinkable two years ago”, he said, adding energy generation by farmers will be “on top of the 25 per cent”.

There is dissatisfaction among some in Fianna Fáil that farmers’ energy generation efforts will be included in the emissions cuts for the energy sector rather than agriculture.

Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill said he raised the issue with Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Friday.

Mr Cahill said: “There has to be recognition if there’s renewables coming out of the agri-sector… If you’re going to get farmer buy-in to do that infrastructure it has to count against the emissions from agriculture.”

Laois-Offaly Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen also called for energy generation on farms to be included in the agriculture sector’s emissions-cut target.

“Ordinary households cannot have an anaerobic digester, ordinary households don’t have the extensive sheds to provide extensive solar space. Therefore it’s an agricultural industry contribution,” Mr Cowen said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Ryan said farmers would contribute to other sectors’ emissions targets through anaerobic digestion, solar energy and afforestation.

“International accounting rules mean these emissions savings can’t be counted towards agriculture’s targets but in energy and land use.”

She added: “However, anaerobic digestion alone will deliver about 7 per cent of agriculture’s total emissions target.

‘Lifecycle climate benefit’

“The planned anaerobic digestion will take careful account of lifecycle climate benefit and biodiversity and water benefits, including avoiding fertilisers, herbicides, drainage and tillage, harvesting patterns/times and sward mixes to benefit biodiversity.”

“At the end of the day, the primary aim is to achieve the economic wide goal – making 51 per cent by 2030.”

Former rural development minister Fine Gael TD Michael Ring said: “Farmers will play their part, have always played their part, and the only good thing about it is it’s not compulsory [for individual farmers] and I welcome that.”

He said if the Government wanted farmers to cut emissions by 25 per cent “they’ll have to put their money where their mouth is” and he wanted to see measures in the budget.

Laois-Offaly TD Charlie Flanagan said the deal represents a compromise. As a rural Fine Gael TD he was “conscious” that his party had “less than half the number of TDs we had a decade ago”.

He added: “The Greens are in government with us and all sectors must play their part in tackling climate change. I’m more of a realist than a happy camper.”

Tipperary-based Fine Gael Senator Garret Ahearn said farmers wouldn’t be “overly happy” with the agreement but it was a “recognition that all sectors need to play their part”.

He said: “Twenty-five per cent is a long way below 30 per cent which could have been the case if Fine Gael hadn’t pushed as strongly as it did.”

Mr Ahern said it was important that efforts to cut emissions would be voluntary for individual farmers and there “will be no mandatory culling of the herd”.

Green Party TDs that represent rural constituencies also responded to the deal for agriculture.

Waterford TD Marc Ó Cathasaigh said: “I would have preferred a higher target, but we have to accept too that there’s a whole sector of farmers out there who are being asked to make huge changes to how they run their farms and make a living.”

Wicklow TD Steven Matthews said he was glad targets had been set for all sectors and that “now it’s about accelerating the implementation of measures, grants, infrastructure and supports for business, farmers and residents.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times