Fruit and Nut
|Food production in Ireland|
Climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation within the livestock sector and options for improved food security outcomes
Irish agriculture is predominantly focussed on livestock and livestock products, including dairy. Ireland exports approximately 75% of all livestock products (from DAFM 2015 and Bord Bia 2016). The sector’s direct role in national food security is relatively small.
The review will examine the outcomes of global warming upon Irish agriculture in terms of mitigation, impacts and future food security
Agricultural Emissions Present and Future
Enteric fermentation accounts for 55% of current agricultural emissions. Soils and indirect emissions account for 30%, while manure management and energy use account for 9% and 4% respectively. The remaining 2% comes from lime and urea applications (EPA 2015).
These figures exclude emissions arising from manufacture and importation of fertilisers or from the production and importation of animal feed. In 2014 Ireland’s agriculture sector imported 1.4Mt of NPK fertilisers, used of 0.89 Mt of ground limestone and imported of 3 Mt of animal feed (DAFM 2015).
Emissions attributed to fertiliser and imported animal feed
The emissions cost of lime is estimated at 1.01-1.57t CO2 per tonne of lime produced (Stork et al 2014). Although much of the lime used on Irish farms is manufactured in Ireland, the emissions of production are not included in the agricultural emissions inventory but attributed to industry instead. Factoring in transportation emissions, the production and supply of lime adds approximately 1-1.5 Mt CO2 to annual emissions.
Dalgaard et al (2008), found emissions associated with soybean meal production to be 0.34-0.72kg CO2eq/kg feed. Assuming similar emissions costs for other feed, Ireland’s external emissions for animal feed would amount to approximately 1-2 MT CO2 eq. Together, the imported feed and fertiliser add 3-6.5 MtCO2eq to the emissions cost of Irish agriculture (an additional 15-32.5%)
Contribution to Irish Food Security
Approximately 75-80% of all the food eaten in Ireland is imported (Wilson 2019*). Imports include: rice, pasta, most other grains and grain products; dried pulses including soya and soya products; all nuts; almost all fruit; sugar and other confectionary; early potatoes and a high proportion of other vegetables; tinned fish and fish products, and almost all culinary oils. The above list is derived from comparing what Ireland does produce (DAFM 2015), with what it actually eats (IUNA 2011).
Popp et al (2010) examined various global scenarios for non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production. The baseline scenario assumed no change in diet or in per-capita food consumption between 1995 and 2055, but global population rising to 9 billion. In this scenario non-CO2 emissions rise from 5.3 to 8.7 Gt CO2eq/yr. Adding in increased consumption of animal products in line with recent dietary trends, non-CO2 emissions rise to 15.3 Gt CO2eq/yr, an increase of 76% from the base scenario. However, the models showed that a 25% decadal decline in meat demand would reduce non-CO2 emissions to 4.3 Gt CO2eq/yr, a fall of 51%. Combining a changing diet with mitigation measures in agriculture saw non-CO2 emissions falling to 2.5 Gt CO2eq/yr.
The projected precipitation changes also show similar regional and seasonal variations. The RCP 4.5 scenario indicated reduced rainfall in most areas during spring, summer and autumn, but increased rainfall in western regions in winter. Under the higher emissions RCP8.5 scenario, reduction in precipitation became more pronounced in eastern areas (Gleeson et al 2013), suggesting that continental airflow would become more dominant.
Murphy and Charlton (2008) found “reduced ground water storage during the recharge period” in eastern catchments, but also increases in western catchments, as well as increased magnitude and frequency of winter and spring flooding events in all areas. The frequency of deep low pressure systems and associated storms in the period 2021-2060 compared to 1961-2000 was found to be largely unchanged (McGrath et al 2005).
Climate Impacts on Irish Agriculture
A drier summer climate in eastern areas would increase soil moisture deficits, potentially impacting negatively on all crops, including grass. In order to maintain yields at current levels, irrigation would be required in most areas where the potato is currently grown. The impacts of increased likelihood of winter and spring flooding events were not discussed but can be presumed to impact on access for both animals and machinery.
Holden et al (as above) presumed that the current makeup of Irish agriculture - predominantly grazing and fodder/feed crops with some potatoes - would remain largely unchanged and did not examine possible impact mitigation resulting from radical changes in agriculture, for example reducing the livestock herd by 60-90%. This would potentially free up land designated for grazing or animal feed production in favour of food crops selected on the basis of a changed climate and changed soil conditions (for example grains, legumes, root crops, fruit, nuts and other perennial crops).
Fox et al (2011) found an increased summer incidence of Fasciola hepatica (liver fluke) in the UK. spreading eastwards from historical fluke strongholds. This trend was expected to continue, with increased risk in most parts of Britain, particularly in the west. The outcomes for Ireland can be expected to be broadly similar.
Pietzsch et al (2005) found increased incidence of Ixodes ricinus in western and northern Britain in recent decades. Ticks have many implications for health, both in livestock and in the human population. Danielova et al (2004) found a relationship between temperature-related ecological changes and the incidence tick-borne encephalitis in the Czech Republic.
Guis et al (2011) found that the emergence of BTV (Blue Tongue Virus) across Europe “is related, at least partly, to climate change”. The Culicodes midge responsible for BTV is also a vector for many other viruses including West Nile Virus and Alkurma Haemorrhage Fever (Gale et al 2009).
Diversification of food outputs and the substitution of animal production in favour of food crops has the potential to decrease the vulnerability of Irish agriculture to climate change, while simultaneously decreasing the emissions footprint and increasing national food security.
* The 2019 study found that the percentage of food eaten in Ireland derived from imports is significantly higher than calculated in an earlier study by Andi
Bord Bia: Bord Bia Factsheet on the Irish agriculture and food and drink sector 2016 www.bordbia.ie/industry/buyers/industryinfo/agri/pages/default.aspx (last accessed 08/11/16)
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CCAC 2016: Climate Change Advisory Council, annual report
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DAFF 2010: Department of Agriculture Food and Fisheries, Food harvest 2020 report
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Dalgaard, R., Schmidt, J., Halberg, N., Christensen, P., Thrane, M. and Pengue, W., 2008: LCA of soybean meal
EPA 2015: Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emission projections 2014-2035
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IUNA, 2011: Irish Universities Nutritional Alliance. National Adult Nutrition Survey
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Stork, M., Meindertsma, W., Overgaag, M., and Neelis, M., 2014: Competitive and efficient lime industry Report for European Lime Association
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