In Northern Ireland, agriculture will have to reduce its stock of more than one million sheep and cattle if the country is to meet its new legally binding climate targets. This is according to a report by analyst KPMG commissioned by the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).
Northern Ireland’s agricultural sector must be climate neutral by the middle of this century. Methane emissions should be reduced by almost 50 percent compared to current volumes by the same time.
In Northern Ireland, about a third of methane emissions generated by human activities come from the animal population. In order to meet the new climate targets, that stock of more than 500,000 cattle and around 700,000 sheep would have to be reduced.
The local agriculture and food industry have been concerned about the emission reduction for some time. Agriculture in Northern Ireland is responsible for about 27 per cent of Northern Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The vast majority of these emissions come from livestock.
Northern Ireland has a meat industry that is heavily export-oriented. Exports are mainly focused on Great Britain, but China and North America are also important destinations.
Poultry processor Moy Park, a subsidiary of the Brazilian meat producer JBS Group – has grown to become one of the largest companies in Europe in its sector, but has also developed into Northern Ireland’s largest company. Irish pig producer JMW Farms, on the other hand, has almost tripled its turnover over the past decade to 54 million pounds.
In the study, it is noted that the cultivation of cattle and sheep can make the greatest contribution to reducing agricultural emissions. “After all, these sectors are responsible for most of the impact that the animal population has on emissions from Northern Ireland agriculture,” the researchers argue.
“In the cultivation of pigs and poultry, on the other hand, this impact is limited to 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively. Interventions in these sectors will therefore have only a modest impact on the reduction of emissions.”
“Cattle and sheep indeed represent the largest emissions,” also acknowledge spokespersons for the British Climate Change Committee (CCC). “After all, they cause high methane emissions. Pigs and poultry, on the other hand, are responsible for large volumes of indirect emissions. This has to do with the massive import of feed. This transport is also associated with large volumes of emissions.”
According to Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, a switch to arable farming is likely to be necessary to keep food production in Northern Ireland within the new emission standards at the same level.