Agriculture practices and the future of the sector have loomed large in discussions about Ireland's efforts to reduce emissions in recent months.

Those topics have a particular relevance for the next generation of farmers.

Students at GMIT Mountbellew Agriculture College in Co Galway are being trained in the latest practices and technologies that will alter farm practices in the years ahead.

Those embarking on a career in farming are generally upbeat about their prospects and the challenges they face. However, they also emphasise the need for proper support structures to be in place, to ensure that the country’s food producers can adapt and respond to the increasing momentum for action on climate change.

Martin Mulkerrins is a lecturer at the college. He says that course modules are continually being tweaked and improved to take account of the pace of research and developments relating to farming.

A particular focus on sustainable agriculture makes students very aware of the innovations that can improve profitability, but also the environmental sustainability of farm practices.

Martin Mulkerrins is a lecturer at GMIT Mountbellew Agriculture College

Classes on grassland management and multi-species swards, to reduce the need for fertiliser, mean there is a growing awareness on the effective steps that can be taken to bring about changes.

"Students are exposed to other modules around animal health and how advances in this regard will revolutionise parasite management," Mr Mulkerrins said.

Mr Mulkerrins added that there is a willingness among the students to tease out practical applications of what they are learning, in order to see how they can implement cutting edge practices.

All this is part of the effort to turn out graduates that are prepared and ready for what the future holds.

Third and fourth year students at the college say they are cognisant of the challenges ahead.

Mark McKeon from Dromod, Co Leitrim, comes from a beef farm and says that he is keen to impart the knowledge he has garnered in Mountbellew to others.

Mark McKeon

From a farming tradition that goes back four or five generations, he says the sector has always been evolving and that there is no sign of that halting.

"Farming has been around since the dawn of time. It's always changing and it’s only going to change for the good," he said.

"I’m happy to be a part of that.

"I’m not going to back down from farming. We’re changing to low emission slurry spreading, we’re getting rid of any plastic off the farm, we don’t burn anything, we’re reducing our use of chemical fertilisers. We’re doing everything that we can We’re trying our best."

Athenry based student Colin Callanan farms around 40 acres with his father.

Colin Callanan

Now in final year, he says it is an interesting time to be involved in agriculture but it is also "a bit scary".

He feels the sector is being "demonised to a certain degree" in the media.

"Everyone needs to do their bit to tackle the climate crisis. Farmers are willing to do their bit but they need to be helped, particularly young farmers," he said.

"The current grants could do with improvement. if people want us to change then we need help because these things cost a lot.

"A lot of politicians are out of touch with what is going on in agriculture at present. They need to have people who understand the sector and recognise the real difficulties that are there."

That need for consultation and understanding was echoed by Catherine Creighton, from Moycullen in Co Galway.

Catherine Creighton

But she is heartened by increased backing for women in the sector, that form part of the new Common Agriculture Policy.

Her classmate, Andrea Glenane says that the mindset prevalent in Mountbellew will have knock-on effects for those who follow the class of 2022.

If you have the attitude that you want to improve your farm, she says, "you will take it on and take it in your stride to learn about what you can do".

"We’re doing that both for ourselves and our careers, but also for future generations."