‘Switch from suckler cows to Friesian bulls to meet climate targets’

A switch from suckling systems to dairy-calf to beef has been recommended as a key way for Ireland to meet its greenhouse gas emissions in a new report.

Political commitment is required to establish Ireland as the global leader climate smart agriculture, according to the joint report from the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) and the RDS.

The report highlights what it calls Ireland’s ‘unique challenge‘ of having beef and dairy sectors which are relatively large for a developed economy and are also ‘critically important‘ to the Irish economy, especially in rural Ireland.

It also cites the fact that Ireland also has substantially less land under forest than is the norm across the EU.

According to the report, the case of Ireland illustrates that climate and agriculture objectives are increasingly at odds at national and EU levels.

Key recommendations include:

  • Providing incentives for farmers to encourage investment in dairy-beef systems, soil health,
    better genetics, forestry and on-farm renewables
  • Promoting access to land for young farmers who are innovative and have high rates of
    technology adoption
  • Reconfiguring extension services and knowledge transfer activities around climate-smart
  • Promoting climate-smart agriculture overseas through aid programmes and other

The report says as a consequence of the increase in dairy cow numbers, the availability of calves from the dairy herd has dramatically increased.

Up to 400,000 additional calves will eventually become available for beef production on non-dairy farms, it says.

The report says that a ‘climate-smart’ response would be to incentivise an expansion of dairy calf to beef production citing Teagasc figures which show emissions from dairy-beef systems are almost 50% lower than suckler systems, and the Report says this outcome can be both economically attractive and carbon-efficient.

In order to overcome barriers to adoption, the report proposes that incentive schemes must be aligned and pushing in the same direction.


The report also highlights the many barriers to the uptake of new technologies and farming practices, not least access to land for young farmers.

It outlines approaches to overcoming these barriers, including ensuring that young farmers are eligible for EU and national incentives and promoting awareness of long-term leasing options for older farmers.

It also says that there may be a need to reconfigure extension services in light of new priorities and technologies and there is a potential role for public-private partnerships in promoting uptake of new technologies and approaches.

RDS and the IIEA established a Leadership Forum on Climate-Smart Agriculture 18 months ago, and engaged key leaders and stakeholders nationally and internationally. The objective of the Forum was to find pragmatic solutions for Irish agriculture within the context of food demand trends and climate change.

This report entitled: “A Climate-Smart Pathway for Irish Agricultural Development: Exploring the
Leadership Opportunity”, is the outcome of this process. It was authored by Joseph Curtin and Tom Arnold  of the IIEA, with editorial input form Tom Kirley, Chairman of the Rural Development Committee of the RDS.