A decision on a possible scheme to reduce the national dairy herd will be made "over the next few months", Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has said.

The total number of dairy cows in Ireland may need to be reduced by up to 65,000 a year over the next three years, if the farming sector is to reach its climate targets, according to an internal discussion paper drawn up by the Department of Agriculture.

"I expect to bring clarity on the role of a scheme for next year, or otherwise," Mr McConalogue said.

He described the scheme as voluntary and one proposed by farm representative groups.

"I am therefore considering the issue in that context," he added.

He is hopeful that agriculture emissions will fall this year and that the sector will be the first to achieve a reduction to below the 2018 baseline.

"I am confident that with the steps we've put in place, we'll see results in the time ahead."

Figures contained in an internal Department of Agriculture paper show that dairy farmers may have to be paid up to €600 million to cull cows if the country is to meet its climate change targets.

Under targets published by the Government, emissions from farming must be reduced by a quarter before the end of the decade.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Minister McConalogue said he is working very closely with farming groups to deliver the 25% target for agriculture by 2030, which is part of the economy-wide 51% reduction.

He said that the key to doing that is working with farmers and "working in partnership".

"One of the recommendations coming out of the Dairy Vision Group was that we should explore the option of a voluntary dairy reduction scheme.

"That is something that my team is currently scoping out and it is under consideration."

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In relation to rewetting, the minister said he has been working at European levels to make sure that the initial proposals would fully take account of Ireland's national profile.

"We have achieved changes and progress at Council of Ministers level in the last two to three weeks, which means, for example, in relation to the rewetting target ... that target could be met entirely, if necessary, from State owned land from Bórd na Móna and Coillte land for example."

He said that this provides reassurance to farmers across the country that there will be no requirement on them to rewet any of their land now.

Pat McCormack, President of ICMSA said the idea of a voluntary reduction exit scheme is not guaranteed to reduce the herd enough.

"There are a whole other range of options on the menu to reduce our emissions, such as appropriate fertiliser, and the incorporation of clover to replace chemical fertiliser," he said.