Around 600 attendees from 26 countries are in Dublin today for the start of a two day conference on agriculture.

It's being organised by Irish-American firm Alltech – and will focus on issues like sustainability, climate change and the potential of agricultural technology.

The agriculture industry has come under renewed pressure recently over its environmental impact – with a conflict emerging between the need for lower emissions and the growing demand for food.

Cathal McCormack, general manager of Alltech Ireland, says this is a global rather than an Irish issue.

"Each country has various resources – Ireland's natural resource is grass and the ability to produce food," he said. "If you take Saudi Arabi, we mine oil there, so when we look at agriculture we must look at it from a global context."

As global as the problem may be, agricultural emissions are an acute issue in Ireland. 

The sector currently accounts for more than 30% of the country's total emissions – making it the single biggest contributor. That makes an obvious and necessary target for any serious reduction in the country's pollutants.

"I suppose that's my very point," Mr McCormack says. "If Ireland wins and the rest of the countries around the world fail, we go down with the rest of the world. The environment is a global debate… I do believe that policymakers need to look at that."

He said there could be changes to the way the industry operates in Ireland – perhaps seeing reliance on foreign imports reduced.

"We have the ability to produce food for 40-50m people so why can't we do that rather than shipping in feed and food from other countries?" he said.

Of course sustainability is more than just emissions – it is also about how the industry can find the resources to cater to growing demand for food worldwide.

Alltech is involved directly and indirectly in the development of numerous agricultural technologies that may help in that regard.

"We have a global population that's growing rapidly – but even moreso we have a population that's demanding more and more protein," he said. "We need to produce more but we need to do that, from an environmental point of view, with less. So ag-tech is going to play a massive role in that."

That may see an eventual paradigm shift in the way agricultural systems work – but a lot of it is about more focused changes to what is already being done.

"That's where we get into precision agriculture – feeding exactly what our animals or crops require at the exact precise time," Mr McCormack said. "It can provide a big leap but from a farming point of view it will also need to be step-by-step."

One of the more immediate challenges facing Irish farmers is Brexit – with the British government yesterday detailing the kinds of tariffs that would apply in the event of a hard exit from the European Union.

Mr McCormack says that this would impact Alltech Ireland – though the global business would probably be more insulated – however he also expressed concerns about the impact such a move would have on rural Ireland.

"I'm from county Roscommon – it's all suckler farmers – and I know that my local community won't survive if this does happen," he said. "It could have a massive affect on rural areas like Roscommon, Mayo – and all these counties in the west and the midlands."