Good farming practices will help to significantly mitigate the impact of climate change.
This was the broad thrust of the messages delivered to members of the Northern Ireland Institute of Agricultural Science (NIIAS) courtesy of recent presentations given by Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) soil scientist Dr Dario Fornara and leading business journalist Thomas Hubert.
Fornara confirmed that simple practices such as spreading lime regularly on land can boost the carbon sequestration capacity of soils.
He said: “This is a consequence of the soils’ enhanced capability to grow crops and the fact that microbial activity is significantly increased.”
Fornara added: “AFBI research is also confirming that fertiliser treatments can boost soil carbon sequestration rates. A continuous trial, initiated almost 50 years ago at AFBI Hillsborough has confirmed that regular applications of cattle slurry will significantly boost soil carbon levels relative to other soil fertility treatments.
“However, the same research has shown that soils in Northern Ireland will continue to sequester carbon for up to 50 years. Until recently, it was thought that the level of sequestration activity would drop-off after 20 years.”
Hubert said that land management – on a global basis – will be a critical factor in helping mankind to successfully address the challenge of climate change.
He added: “We know that practices such as slash and burn farming in the tropics lead to significant levels of deforestation. The farming industry must respond with new management practises that are sustainable but which will also allow agriculture to produce the additional food required by a fast-growing global population.”
Hubert predicted that a carbon tax on food may well be introduced by the European Union over the coming years: “At present, it is not possible to quantify the full carbon footprint for food, from farm to fork,” he said.
“This issue will be resolved over the coming years. And, once this happens, Brussels may well be the first global player to push for an accompanying carbon tax.”
Both speakers stressed the need for adequate time to be given for research scientists to fully evaluate the impact of production agriculture on the world s’ climate.
NIIAS chairman Peter McCann believes that farmers in Northern Ireland can play a critical role in responding directly to the challenge of climate change.
He said: “It’s often over looked that agriculture accounts for less that 10% of the greenhouse gases produced by society as a whole.
“But the good news is that farming practises can impact positively on our climate. So governments must act to ensure that farmers are supported accordingly, so as to allow them make the required changes to their production practices.”