The national herd size will be determined by new technology and innovation, and the extent to which livestock farmers ‘voluntarily diversify to other agricultural enterprises’ according to the agriculture minister, Charlie McConalogue.

The minister was responding to a parliamentary question posed by independent TD, Carol Nolan.

She asked Minister McConalogue to provide clarification on his understanding of the term ‘stabilisation’ in relation to policies or commitments impacting the national herd.

“The term ‘stabilisation’ in the context of the deputy’s question refers to the government’s position on maintaining a stable herd,” said Minister McConalogue.

And, he reiterated the government’s message that maintaining a stable number of animals in the national herd would be done in tandem with reducing the absolute emissions of the sector while improving the carbon footprint of our produce.

“Looking back over the last decade, data from the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO’s) June Livestock Survey indicates that the total number of cattle has increased by 11% over the period from 2010 to 2021; while the total number of cows has increased by 14% over that period,” said Minister McConalogue.

National herd – new tech and diversifying

In stabilising the national herd, he said, the focus over the coming decade will be on the increased and early adoption of existing carbon-mitigation measures, while working to develop new abatement measures through research and innovation.

“National herd numbers by 2030 will be determined not only by how technology and innovation deliver for the agricultural sector, but also to what extent livestock farmers embrace other opportunities and voluntarily diversify to other agricultural enterprises, for example extending organic farming practices,” he explained.

He said that while he acknowledged that the emissions reductions target for the sector is challenging, he is confident that that it is achievable.

The Government’s new Climate Action Plan sets out a 22-30% reduction in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 2030, based on a starting point of 23 metric tonnes (MT), to bring emissions into a range of 16-18 MT by 2030, an absolute reduction of between 5-7 MT.

“The Food Vision 2030 strategy includes a commitment to produce detailed plans by quarter two of next year to manage the sustainable environmental footprint of the dairy and the beef sectors; and I will be prioritising that action,” he said.

Herd reduction – ‘de facto stealth policy’

Commenting on the minister’s answer, Deputy Nolan said:

“The minister’s claim that national herd numbers by 2030 will be determined by the extent to which livestock farmers ‘voluntarily diversify’ to other agricultural enterprises is completely disingenuous.

“It ignores the repeated warnings issued by the likes of Macra na Feirme, and others, that farmers are essentially being financially coerced to embrace eco-schemes at an escalated rate or face significant income reductions.

“Nothing in the Minister’s reply will ease concerns that herd reduction remains a de facto, stealth policy of this government.”