700,000 suckler cows and calves will be weighed in 2020 as part of BEEP – ICBF

The focus of tonight’s episode of [email protected] involved the environmental sustainability of beef production in Ireland and what steps Irish farmers could take to reduce the environmental footprint of their cattle enterprises.

Featuring on the episode – brought to you by AgriLand and Teagasc – the Irish Cattle Breeding Federations’s (ICBF’s) Dr. Andrew Cromie spoke with Dr. Edward O’Riordan.

What programmes are there to help farmers?

The BDGP [Beef Data and Genomics Programme] came in for some flack in the early years; some would say it was ahead of its time and arguably it was.

But, it has positioned us in a great place in being able to demonstrate the opportunities there are around the carbon efficiency gains that can be achieved in the suckler herd.

The BDGP is coming to the end and it has been complemented in many ways by the BEEP [Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot] which was a pilot last year around weighing cows and calves.

Last year we had a good uptake in the programme and this year – in the new programme – there’s 27,000 beef farms involved with 700,000 cows and calves that will be weighed in 2020.

They are great examples where policy meets practice and really supporting the industry in terms of its needs and requirements for the future.

How do these programmes help in terms of sustainability?

This is where the real win:win is. The gains that farmers want and need in terms of calves per cow per year, younger age at slaughter, improved female fertility and improved growth rates are completely consistent with climate and environmental benefits.

At initial indications, certainly we were very confident – based on the biological models – that by improving these traits we were going to actually also reduce the carbon footprint – reduce the total methane output of our suckler herd.

And that now has been validated. At the Tully Performance Test Station, we are seeing that these high-index animals are not only delivering in terms of the productivity gains, but they are actually doing it with lower total methane output which is a fantastic win:win.

If we look at the gains that are now happening in the suckler herd, and if we project forward to 2030, there’s a €100 additional profit opportunity there for farmers, but it’s going to come at 3-4% less methane output at a per cow level and there are opportunities to push that further.