It’s time for an Irish perspective on Global Warming

I sat in on two environmental conferences during the month of September. Both events saw numerous speakers endorse the principles of the COP 21 agreement on Global Warming.

They also espoused the principle of Ireland meeting its greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2020. And, of course, this brought agriculture centre stage within the debate that followed.

Irrespective of the claims made by Teagasc staff and Irish farm ministers, concerning the country’s ability to secure future greenhouse gas emissions targets, one fundamental fact remains unchallenged.

Grass-based agriculture will always remain inherently inefficient from a carbon footprint perspective.

Let me fire out a couple of examples. It is possible to finish beef cattle at 15 months, if they are fed large amounts of cereal and other concentrates: the equivalent time period for cattle fed grass-based diets is closer to 30 months.

Similarly, it is possible to double the milk output of cows fed large quantities of meals in sheds, when compared with their counterparts that are put out into a grass field directly after calving in the month of February.

The last couple years have seen a significant number of media profiles given to scientists who espouse the view that grassland farming is inherently inefficient.

One of the most obvious ways of looking at this is to consider the time required to take a meat-producing animal through to point of slaughter.

The longer this process takes, the more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases the animals concerned will push out into the atmosphere.

But this is only one side of the story. The reality is that every consumer in the world knows that producing milk, beef and lamb from grazed grass is the most ‘natural’ way of farming dairy cows, cattle and sheep.

Hence my shock at the total acquiescence demonstrated by the Irish government in signing up for COP 21 without flagging up the importance of grazed grass to our economy and the totally natural way our farmers go about their business.

Let’s be clear about this: keeping a suckler cow to produce one calf a year on a Donegal hill farm and for her progeny to be eventually finished on a Co. Meath finishing unit probably breaks every ‘global warming’ principle in the book.

But it is the most appropriate way that one could imagine of producing beef, using management techniques that are totally in sync with Ireland’s natural environment.

In my opinion, the Irish government, Bord Bia and Teagasc missed a trick in not shouting from the rooftops about the true benefits of Ireland’s grass-focused farming sectors, in the context of the COP 21 negotiations.

But maybe they will have a chance to rectify this matter should Donald Trump force a re-think of the fundamental principles enshrined within the agreement.