Irish beef farmers have the opportunity to generate €300m in on-farm income annually, according to Bord Bia, if they increase their sustainability.

Figures from the Bord Bia Sustainability Report 2015 show that, on the average suckler beef farm, increasing the calving rate from 80% to 92% would potentially reduce the carbon footprint by 10% and increase the financial performance of the farm by €2,300 a year.

Alternatively, the figures state that a number of smaller adjustments, such as increasing the length of the grazing season by 18 days to 263 days; reducing age of first calving by two months; increasing calving rate to 85%; lifting lifetime average daily weight gain by 50g/day and changing the proportion of slurry spread in spring from 50% to 70% would also amount to this improve financial gain.

Bord Bia Chief Executive Aidan Cotter told the Sustainability Conference where the report was launched, that saying the Irish agri-food sector is green is no longer enough – that such claims must be substantiated.

Launched in June 2012, Origin Green is the world’s first sustainability programme for a country’s entire food and drink sector.

Since Origin Green was established, more than 55,000 Irish farms and 122 food and drink companies have become fully-verified members of the programme. These farms account for 90% of Ireland’s beef production and half of its milk output, while the companies are responsible for 85% of the country’s food and drink exports.

A feature of Origin Green is the practice that all participating farms be audited and carbon-footprinted once every 18 months. Since its launch, almost 90,000 carbon assessments have been carried out on Irish farms. This action alone, according to Aidan Cotter, makes Ireland a world-leader in sustainability.

“No other country anywhere is carbon foot-printing its farms on, what is, in effect, a national scale. And we are not just doing this once; we are doing it routinely over an 18-month cycle. This is a process of measurement, feedback and continuous improvement. Farms are also measured on their performance around water conservation and biodiversity, as well as on animal health and welfare and on food safety.”

The Bord Bia report indicates total greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture could be reduced by 6%, or by 1m tonnes if the lower-performing beef and dairy farms were brought back in line with the national average. Ireland’s dairy herd already enjoys the joint-lowest footprint in the European Union, while its beef herd ranks at number five.

Under Origin Green, food and drink companies are required to create three-to-five year sustainability development plans in which targets are set in areas such as raw material sourcing, energy usage and emissions, water and waste management and social sustainability such as producing healthier foods and investing in their communities.