Agriculture

Climate change is challenging for Irish agriculture both in the context of greenhouse gas emissions and the need for adaptation of farming practices to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. In Ireland the Agriculture sector was directly responsible for 35.4% of national Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) emissions in 2019, mainly methane from livestock, and nitrous oxide due to the use of nitrogen fertiliser and manure management.

Agriculture was responsible for 35.4% of greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland in 2019

Highlights

Agriculture Highlights 2019

Current trends

• Greenhouse gas emissions decreased 4.0% in 2019
• But emissions still up 8.7% in last five years (2015-2019)
• In 2019, 9.4% above 1990 levels

Cause

• Reduction in nitrogen fertilizer use (-10.1%) and liming (-25.4%)
• Dairy cow numbers up 2.8% (up by 25% since 2014)
• Milk production up 5.3% (up by 41% since 2014)

Outlook

• Emissions projected to increase with expansion of animal numbers.
• Technologies to reduce emissions available:
• Low Emission Slurry Spreading
• "Stabilised urea" fertilisers

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in 2019

Final EPA Inventory data shows that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in Ireland decreased by 4.0% (or 0.88 Mt CO₂eq[1]) in 2019 following an increase in 2018 of 3.9%.

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture come from a variety of processes or activities. You can see more information about each of these in the table and pie chart below.

  • Table 1: Sources of emissions

    Open in Excel: Agriculture activities emission share (XLS 10KB)

Agriculture activity trends

The most significant drivers for the decreased emissions in 2019 were decreased fertiliser use (-10.1%) and liming (-25.4%). This follows substantial increases in both fertiliser and lime use in 2018. It is worth noting that Agricultural emissions in 2018 were the highest in the thirty-year time series (1990-2019). The size of the dairy herd continued to increase, for the ninth consecutive year (+2.8% in 2019), with a 5.3% increase in total national milk production.

From 2014 to 2019, dairy cow numbers increased by 24.5% and milk production increased by 41%. This reflects the national plans to expand milk production under Food Wise 2025 and the removal of the milk quota in 2015.

Other cattle numbers decreased in 2019 by 3.0% resulting in an overall decrease in the cattle herd of -2.7% year over year. Total fossil fuel combustion emissions from agriculture/forestry/fishing activities decreased by 1.7%. In the last five years (2015-2019), the numbers of other cattle have decreased by 0.4%, whereas there have been increases in the numbers of sheep (+0.9%), pigs (+5.5%) and poultry (+9.6%).

Total emissions from agriculture are projected to increase by 2.7% over the period 2020-2030 to 21.9 Mt CO2 eq under the With Existing Measures scenario.
Under the With Additional Measures scenario emissions are projected to decrease to approximately 19 Mt CO2 eq by 2030 which is an 11.3% reduction over the period 2020-2030. This scenario assumes a total of 16.5 Mt CO2eq of mitigation over the period 2021-2030 with the implementation of Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, including those measures in the Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve.

Sensitivity Scenarios

A sensitivity analysis of the With Existing Measures emissions scenario has been undertaken for the agriculture emissions projections based on alternative projected activity data scenarios provided by Teagasc. One alternative scenarios is presented which looks at stronger growth in agricultural activity levels.

The resulting emissions are presented below alongside the WEM scenario, showing that stronger growth would likely lead to higher emissions over the projected period.