Sustainability, Climate Change and Eco-Friendly Farming

One of Ireland’s richest natural farming advantages is that rainfall is abundant, frequent and clean. Apart from small acreages of horticultural crops, irrigation is not generally practised in Ireland.

Protection of Ireland’s natural environment has been a central element of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for over 20 years.

Payments to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are dependent on the achievement and maintenance of baseline standards on environmental and public health, animal and plant health, and animal welfare – otherwise known as “cross compliance”. This would include tagging all calves at birth and recording all sales and purchases; maintaining a record of all veterinary medicines used; preventing soil erosion and maintaining wildlife habitats. Further details are available from the EU Commission’s agriculture section at (

The Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS)


The Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) was introduced in Ireland in 1994 and has proved to be one of Europe’s best environmental stewardship schemes. Farmers are required to comply with a five year environmental plan in order to qualify for an annual payment co-funded by the EU and the Irish Exchequer. Soil testing, fencing off of watercourses and planting of hedgerows are just some of the measures central to the scheme.

Quality assurance plays a fundamental role in promoting food and horticulture and provides the platform for consumer promotion of product quality. The Irish food promotion body, An Bord Bia, provides quality assurance schemes for beef, lamb, pigmeat, poultry, eggs and horticulture. Products produced through the scheme carry the Bord Bia Quality Assurance logo (

Since January 2011, the Beef Quality Assurance Scheme (BQAS) includes an objective assessment of the farm’s carbon footprint under the auspices of the Carbon Trust in the UK. This is a world first and will ensure that the environmental credentials of the 32,000 BQAS participants can be proven to the world. Also important is the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme, which was established in 2008 to improve the quality of the beef cow herd and to promote the highest standards of animal welfare.

The Environmental Protection Agency ( is the statutory body charged with monitoring and protecting Ireland’s environment. They produce regular reports on the quality of Ireland’s water air and natural environment.

Today, only 10% of Ireland’s land is in forestry, a figure that is very low compared with the European average of 40%. New energy markets for timber and the tax free status of the crop make an attractive option for wet mineral soils that are difficult to manage for livestock enterprises.

While conifers such as Sitka Spruce on hills dominated in the past, there has been a major increase in broadleaf planting in lowlands, to the point where 40% of all new planting is to native broadleaf species. There has also been a gradual shift away from public – Coillte – planting, with most planting in recent years undertaken by farmers   ( As a result, the total forest area in private ownership has increased from 100,499 hectares in 1980 to 347,651 hectares today. Coillte forest area totals 397,805 hectares (

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