The grass-based nature of Irish livestock farming gives it “certain positive environmental characteristics” which contribute to the low carbon footprint of Irish milk and meat, according to Teagasc.

In his opening statement at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine earlier today (Wednesday, April 14), which was meeting to discuss the new climate bill and its implications for agriculture, Teagasc director Prof. Gerry Boyle provided an outline of Irish agriculture in an international context.


Following a rather grim summation of the challenges presented by short-term targets set out under the bill, the Teagasc director highlighted that Ireland’s grassland area is best suited for grass both from an environmental and economic perspective, explaining:

“Irish agriculture is mainly grassland based, with about 90% of agricultural land under grassland, by far the highest percentage in Europe. As a result, Irish agriculture is dominated by ruminant livestock production – dairy, beef and sheep.

Prof. Boyle noted that, when measured against other developed countries, Irish agriculture is relatively extensive, with low stocking rates and low levels of imported feed and synthetic fertiliser use on most Irish farms.

Continuing, he said: “The grass-based nature of livestock production in Ireland gives it certain positive environmental characteristics in terms of close integration between livestock and crops grown for feed, manure recycling, low food versus feed competition, biodiversity and landscapes, and soil quality and organic carbon content.

Environmental impact

“The carbon footprint or emissions per kg of Irish milk and meat are low by international standards, with one EU study showing Irish milk to have the joint lowest carbon footprint in the EU and the 5th lowest footprint for beef,” he said.

Indicators of Irish farming environmental performance are detailed in the annual Teagasc Sustainability Report, he added.

Continuing, the Teagasc professor explained:

“Grasslands are an enormous store of soil carbon – but if this land is converted to crop production, some of this soil carbon is released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. For a range of reasons, much of Ireland’s grassland area is agronomically and economically unsuited to crop production.

“Given the low carbon footprint of Irish milk and meat, Ireland can continue to strive to meet growing international market demand for food so as to contribute to global food security and avoid carbon leakage, whilst at the same time meeting environmental obligations including those related to climate change,” the Teagasc director concluded.