‘Sacrificing the suckler cow won’t solve the emissions problem’

For many, sacrificing the Irish suckler herd would be an easy method of reducing the green-house gases – particularly methane – emitted by Irish agriculture.

However, Teagasc’s Prof. Boyle warned that the bigger picture needs to be looked at and simply ceasing suckler production could in fact cause additional problems.

“I think the suckler cow comes in for a bad rap often,” he said earlier today (November 4) at the Food Wise Conference 2017.

“When we think of sustainability, it’s important that we think of all of the dimensions – whether they are economic, social or environmental.

Certainly for a lot of farmers in Ireland, the suckler cow is a source of economic sustainability and, therefore, that’s why it’s a particularly sensitive issue.

Touching on what might happen if the suckler cow herd was abolished, Boyle said: “We would reduce our emissions, but we then would also have to deal with all the other issues that follow from that. Economic sustainability would be an issue.”

The Teagasc head also touched on the important role the suckler cow herd plays from a biodiversity point of view.

“There’s two dimensions to biodiversity. Most people think of biodiversity in the context of farming damaging biodiversity.

“But there’s another side to that – and certainly I think it’s a huge issue – is the issue of land abandonment.

We know in very valuable upland areas, farming is essential to maintain the landscape. This is a complex story and I think we should exhaust all of the potential technologies that are there to reduce green-house gases [before reducing the suckler herd].

The Teagasc representative added: “The technologies have been identified.” These technologies include the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) and protected urea.

“If farmers could be persuaded to switch from CAN (calcium ammonium nitrate) as the dominant source of nitrogen to a urea product, that would substantially reduce emissions.”