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Agricultural Sustainability. Cathal O’Donoghue Teagasc Rural Economy and Development Programme. Overview. Agriculture and Hunger Globally Agriculture and the Environment Biofuels Biotechnology Agriculture in Ireland Sustaining Farm Livelihoods. Feeding the World. Malthusian catastrophe.

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agricultural sustainability

Agricultural Sustainability

Cathal O’Donoghue

Teagasc Rural Economy and Development Programme

  • Agriculture and Hunger Globally
  • Agriculture and the Environment
  • Biofuels
  • Biotechnology
  • Agriculture in Ireland
  • Sustaining Farm Livelihoods
malthusian catastrophe
Malthusian catastrophe
  • Malthusian catastrophe
    • Return to subsistence once population growth exceeds agricultural productivity growth

- Malthus (1798), An Essay on the Principle of Population

Source UN

percentage under nourished
Percentage Under-nourished
  • Despite increasing World Population
    • Falling Percentage Under-nourished
  • Agricultural Revolution
  • Green Revolution
    • Science based growth
    • 2%+ cereal yield growth per annum

Source FAO

future population growth
Future Population Growth
  • However
    • Population continues to rise
    • More people – 6.5 to 9 billion people by 2050
    • More food production – need to double grain production by 2050
    • Continued pressure

Source UN

world population
World Population

95% of World Population Growth in Developing World

Source UK Food Futures

declining yield growth
Declining Yield Growth
  • Yield growth declining
    • Soil deterioration due to overuse of chemicals and industrial pollution
    • Biggest gains already achieved


declining hectares per capita
Declining Hectares per Capita

Although number of hectares of cultivated arable land increased by 10% 1960-2005, Per Capita land halved.

UK Footprint – 5.4 ha pp

China Footprint – 0.5 ha pp

Source UK Food Futures

global food price index
Global Food Price Index
  • Food Crisis 2008
    • Price Spike due to
    • Economic Growth
    • Low cereal stocks due to bio-energy
    • Drought
    • Speculation
    • Policy – export bans
  • Price Spike 2010
    • Just starting
    • Russian stop exports of grain

Source FAO

under nourished
  • Resulted in large increase (150m) in under-nourished
    • Markets and Scientific Innovation take time to meet market needs
    • Will we see a return in 2011?

Source FAO

food price spikes civil unrest
Food Price Spikes = Civil Unrest
  • Higher Prices
    • More Riots and Civil Unrest

Source IFPRI

where are the hungry
Most Hungry in Asia

Higher Proportion in Africa

- Under nourishment not only about production of food – Distribution, affordability and access to food also important!!

- Sen’s Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981)

- Under-nourishment still a major world issue !

Where are the hungry?

Source FAO

other pressures
Other Pressures
  • Nutrient Transition
    • More wealth – more meat
    • Obesity and Malnutrition in same countries
    • Food Waste – US wastes 27% of food – enough to feed 80 million people

Global Temperature

By 2100 Global Temperature is likely to be 1.8 to 4oC Above 1990 Level

The scale of warming depends on emissions:

Low scenario 1.1 – 2.9oC Best estimate 1.8 – 4.0oC High scenario 2.4 – 6.4oC

IPCC (2007)

impacts of climate change
Impacts of climate change

Global temperature change (relative to pre-industrial)








Falling crop yields in many areas, particularly developing regions

Falling yields in many developed regions

Possible rising yields in some high latitude regions


Significant decreases in water availability in many areas, including Mediterranean and Southern Africa

Small mountain glaciers disappear – water supplies threatened in several areas

Sea level rise threatens major cities


Extensive Damage to Coral Reefs

Rising number of species face extinction

Extreme Weather Events

Rising intensity of storms, forest fires, droughts, flooding and heat waves

Risk of Abrupt and Major Irreversible Changes

Increasing risk of dangerous feedbacks and abrupt, large-scale shifts in the climate system

Source IPCC

land cover
Land Cover

Only 23% of arable land suitable for rain fed agriculture

Limited capacity for extra cultivated land – need yield growth to increase production


Climate induced percentage change in production in 2050: Rainfed maize

Climate Change:

Global production: -16%

Source: IFPRI


Water Scarcity 2000

Significant Water Pressure

1kg Meat – 15m3 water

1kg Grain – 0.4-3m3 water

Irrigation important however much water is not drained from sustainable sources (e.g. groundwater)

More food production – need to double grain production by 2050 - More water for food – if practices don’t change, water needs double

1/3 of the world’s population live in basins that have to deal with water scarcity

Source: Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, 2007

food and energy
Food and Energy
  • Food and Energy Prices linked
    • As input to food production
    • As a substitute for oil
      • Bioenergy crops

Source: IFPRI

bio fuel consumption
High oil price (Plus subsidies)

Land use change to increase bio-fuel production

Objective – reduce Carbon Emissions via sequestration when growing


Land use change, fertiliser use and other energy inputs may result in higher emissions than fossil fuels

Substitution of land from food and feed reduce food supply and can increase world food prices

Waste from Forestry and Animal processing more efficient in Ireland

Bio-fuel consumption

Source UK Food Futures

  • Selective Breeding
    • 1000’s of years improving breeding
  • Genetic Analysis - Genomics
    • Understanding traits associated with genetics can lead to improved breeding and performance
  • Genetic Modification
    • Specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques
genetic modification
Genetic Modification
  • Pest Resistance
    • Reduces need for pesticides
  • Herbicide Tolerance
    • Reduces costs associated with weeding
  • Cold Tolerance
    • Resistant to frost
  • Water Tolerance
    • Allow for higher crop yields in areas of higher or low moisture levels
genetic modification1


Uncertainty and risk in relation to health due to relative recent introduction

As technologies are patented, there is a shift from public good provided research to profit making, increasing economic strength of multi-nationals

Currently not grown in Ireland

However GM products used in many food stuffs

GM Maize grown in 7 EU countries – Spain has biggest share

Genetic Modification
agri food in ireland
Agri-Food in Ireland
  • Relatively small primary sector ~ 2.5% GDP
  • However important component of processing sector ~ 7%
  • Main Sectors
    • Beef, Dairy, Sheep, Pigs, Tillage
    • Most food exported
  • Agri-food and bio-economy sector a major source of net export earnings
    • Given largely Irish ownership with profits kept in Ireland,
    • Better domestic connectivity and so fewer imports,
    • 16% of exports, BUT 32% of net earnings (Riordan, 2008)
economic issues in agriculture
Economic Issues in Agriculture

Family Farm Income

Family Farm Income by Sector

Source: Teagasc National Farm Survey

Market Power?

Cost Price Squeeze

Source: CSO

animal production and the environment
Animal Production and the Environment

Climate change – minor to positive impact on Irish Agriculture

Agriculture can also impact on environment.

  • Global Food Security
    • Should Ireland reduce agricultural output?
  • Carbon Leakage
    • If we reduce, will there be any positive impact if more rainforest is converted to food production?
  • Incidence of Emissions
    • Production or
    • Consumption
  • On-farm mitigation measures
    • Relatively low stocking rate  more intensive agriculture combined with new forestry
    • However cannot currently offset land use changes against agricultural emissions
marginal abatement cost economy
Marginal Abatement Cost(Economy)

Many other less costly (and beneficial) remedies should be exploited before reducing herd

And target the many options where negative or low marginal abatement costs exist

Source: McKinsey/SEAI


Nutrients required for sustainable agricultural production

However, Excess nutrients in soil (fertiliser and/or manure) can have negative implications for water quality and climate change (N2O)


Reduced Fertiliser Usage

Fertiliser Use - P

Fertiliser Use - N

farm interventions

Significant policy induced interventions

  • Investment in Facilities
  • REPS
  • Calendar Farming
  • Nitrates Directive
Farm Interventions

Proportion of Farms in REPS

Average Investment on Farms as a

% of Farm Income

Prohibited Periods

Source: Teagasc National Farm Survey

viable farms without subsidies farm income min ag wage 5 return on assets

Declining proportion (40% in 1996 to 19% in 2009) of farms are viable

  • ie can generate income equivalent to minimum agricultural wage ~ €17.5k + 5% return on Assets
  • A further 40% are sustainable with off-farm employment
  • Without subsidies like NZ, less than 2% of farms in 2009 (7% in 2008) would have been viable
  • A further 52% are sustainable with off-farm employment
Viable Farms without subsidies(Farm Income > Min Ag Wage + 5% Return on Assets)
farm viability



  • 25%
  • 43% Dairy, 30% Cattle, 15% Sheep, 11% Tillage
  • 13% over 65
  • Commercial end of sector
  • On-farm business needs
Farm Viability


  • Sustainable


  • 35%
  • 11% Dairy, 65% Cattle, 17% Sheep, 7% Tillage
  • 5% over 65
  • Multi-income sources
  • On-farm and Off-farm needs


  • Income Challenged


  • 40%
  • 25% Dairy, 53% Cattle, 16% Sheep, 6% Tillage
  • 41% over 65
  • Severe Income issues
  • Income Generation Needs