|Farming, Forestry and Climate
This question has occupied me for quite a while. The premise is that farming and especially livestock farming, is a major contributor to climate change due to its methane and ammonia emissions. Many researchers believe that large scale planting of forestry trees especially on poorer soils will compensate for excess carbon and methane emissions and absorb carbon.
In theory this sounds like a very good idea but in practice I think this policy is a disaster. The large scale planting of predominantly one species of a non-native tree (Sitka spruce) which as a guess accounts for over 80% (if not more) of all forestry trees planted in Ireland is not very sustainable and good for the environment. Some counties are severely affected by these large scale plantations, especially in Leitrim.
This is the same large-scale monoculture experiment as was done with the potatoes in the 1840’s. This is such a disastrous predicament – nobody seems to be able to see that if any crop – here Sitka spruce – is grown on such a large monocultural scale it is bound to fail. If there is a new pest or disease affecting the trees it has potential for wiping out the whole crop – or 80% of all forestry trees. The alternative is the use of chemicals in forestry which would be even more disastrous in the long run.
– Why not plant more trees on farms – can you imagine if every farm would have 10% of the land planted up with mainly broadleaf trees?
– Why not plant a woodland strip as a field boundary about 10m wide rather than the traditional single hedge? These would be amazing wildlife habitats and highways for all flora and fauna?
– During the heat wave earlier this year I came across a field with one large tree under it and at least 100 sheep were competing for a place in the shade. So why not plant trees in fields for shelter and protection?
We need to become more inventive. I think farming in Ireland is often unnecessarily blamed as a contributor to global warming. Especially in the west with low stocking rates of animals and small field surrounded by hedgerows – I could nearly imagine that some of these farms are already carbon neutral.
We need to look more at the larger scale farms which have higher emissions and often larger fields and more carbon emitting inputs (eg. fertilisers).
Do we really need to increase agricultural production in Ireland? Could we not be happy with a slightly lower production but with less inputs and more sustainable practices?
Let’s finish at least with a couple of tips for all gardeners to help with taking some carbon out of the atmosphere:
– Make and use compost in your garden
– Get woodchip mulch for your fruit bushes for weed control and as a feed
– Reduce soil cultivations as much as possible
– Avoid rotavators
Every time you work the soil some carbon is released into the atmosphere.
Every time you put compost into the soil, carbon is taken from the atmosphere and stored in the soil.
I wish you all a wonderful New Year in 2019.