McConalogue on Ag Climatise and grass recording: ‘We need to see gains on all farms’

The Department of Agriculture is currently working with Teagasc to facilitate the widespread recording of grass production on heavily stocked livestock farms to meet Ag Climatise objectives, according to Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue.

The minister confirmed this to AgriLand in a wide-ranging interview before Christmas which, among other topics, looked at the recent publication of the Ag Climatise report – a national climate and air roadmap for the agriculture sector – last month.

As a set action under Ag Climatise, grass production on all farms above 100 livestock units (LU) or 130kg of organic nitrogen (N) per hectare will have to be recorded.

A measure in the Ag Climatise report aims to see a recording of grass production on all farms above 100 livestock units per hectare; to what extent will they be recording? Will this mean that they will have to join Pasturebase for example? If so, how much will they have to do, e.g. by plate meter, by quadrant? What will be the levels to which they will be recording?

Minister McConalogue: It’s important to recognise that we can do a lot more in relation to better grassland utilisation and being efficient in relation to how we use grass.

It is the least emissive way of feeding animals and there is a lot more we can do in terms of making the most of fertiliser usage that we put in, maximising soil health and ensuring that each farm makes the gains that are there within their own farm.

Within the 29 measures that are in Ag Climatise we are setting out the clear objective in relation to what can be achieved if farmers do improve the approach they take to grassland management and soil health.

I’m working with Teagasc now and its advisors; we’ve set that as a clear objective and I’ll be asking the advisors and Teagasc to work closely with [farmers] in terms of how each farmer can make real gains looking at what the baseline is at the moment and providing key advice in terms of how they can make those gains over and above what they’re at.

While we’re not prescriptive at this point, the objective and potential there is clear and outlined in Ag Climatise. Now it’s up to us to operationalise that and actually see those gains materialise at farm level.

If Teagasc is involved at a level like that will that mean that Pasturebase is on the table; that farmers will have to join Pasturebase?

I’ve no doubt that that is an option that’s there but, in general across many farms, it’s not something that there’s significant awareness of or significant attention to or enough testing of soil or grassland measurement or management either.

So I think we need to see gains on all farms, we need to see an increased knowledge around the benefits of this and how it can lead to reduced costs and increased profitability at farm level too.

I’m not being prescriptive but certainly, in relation to the tools that are there and how we see further engagement and advice from our advisor professionals to individual farmers, I’ll now be looking to them to engage with them and to reflect and put in place a programme that actually sees the overall objectives delivered on.

In the event that Pasturebase was introduced for farmers to sign up to, would that mean that farmers who are not already clients of Teagasc would have to sign up to Teagasc, or would it be a case of allowing Teagasc to be used by non-client farmers?

It’s not something that I have formed a particular view on yet, the document is outlining the potential that can be gained in terms of emissions and productivity, as well as cost-saving and better grassland management.

In terms of my department here working with Teagasc, working with agricultural advisors and working with farmers, the onus is on us now to explore how we implement that overall policy objective.

That will all be very much on the table now in terms of how we meet our target.