The Teagasc Beef Conference 2021 (BeefCon21) got underway tonight, Monday, December 6, at 8:00p.m.

The conference was a virtual online event hosted by Teagasc’s Beef Specialist Aidan Murray. During the event, presentations were delivered by the Teagasc director Prof. Frank O’Mara and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s (ICBF) Chris Daly.

Speaking at the event, O’Mara gave an overview of the upcoming climate obligations but began by outlining “the commitment of Teagasc to beef farmers”.

He said: “There’s over 70,000 farmers involved in beef production, there’s a further 10,000 people working in the meat processing industry and there’s exports of over €2 billion worth of beef last year.

“That €2 billion ends up being spent in every parish of the country so it’s a really important part of agriculture and an important industry for rural Ireland,” he acknowledged.

Beginning his discussion titled: ‘Meeting our Climate Obligations – a Pathway for the Beef Industry’, O’Mara affirmed: “Our proposition is we can meet the emission reduction targets through the application of new and old technologies and by improving efficiency on farms.”

He drew attention to the the Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) curve saying: “It’s a graphical form of all the technologies that can contribute to reducing emissions.

“For a number of years we have been trying to identify technologies where we can reduce emissions and where we can get more use out of the system to reduce emissions.”

Commenting on emissions, O’Mara stated: “The main one is methane, but we don’t really have too many handles to pull to reduce methane at the moment but that’s hopefully going to change.”

Interestingly, the Teagasc director told those tuned into the event: “A lot of the focus for the next couple of years is on nitrogen and trying to reduce the amount of emissions that come from fertiliser.”

Commenting on the potential costings of the measures to reduce emissions, O’Mara said: “We are very conscious that cattle production is not a high margin business so if these technologies don’t contribute to the bottom line of farmers, then it’s going to be hard to persuade a farmer to adopt them.

“We’re very conscious that some of these measures may require some level of incentive to meet the cost if there is going to be a cost increasing effect.

He explained: “We’re starting off with the base year of 2018 and Irish agriculture producing 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

“At the end of 2030, we have to target having the emissions down to between 16 and 18 million tonnes of CO2.

Commenting on how the 22-30% reduction in emissions will be achieved, O’Mara said: “The first step is improving existing technologies, such as cattle breeding, soil fertility, and grassland management as well as using protected urea.

“By implementing these, farmers can reduce emissions by about 2 million tonnes which is important but is not going to get to the required 5-7 million tonnes.

“Using feed additives to reduce methane and slaughtering beef cattle earlier could reduce emissions by a further 1-2 million tonnes,” he outlined.

“For the last step of the road, we are going to need a lot of further research on technologies which were only at the early stages of researching now,” the Teagasc director explained.

“It’s the use of things like feed additives for grazing animals and were figuring out a way to get them into the diets of animals while grazing,” O’Mara explained.

He added that the research body is currently also undertaking “very encouraging research in breeding low-emitting beef animals”.

“With intensive research, another 1.5-3 million tonnes of reductions will bring us to our target of 16-18 million tonnes reduction and put Ireland on the road to being climate neutral,” he explained.

Concluding, The Teagasc director expressed confidence that the emissions reduction targets can be achieved: “There is a pathway to reach the national targets without having to gut the national herd.

“It’s not a very straight-forward pathway, it’s a narrow twisty pathway and we can’t see around some of the corners in it, but it is there and that’s the pathway were advocating the industry follows to reach these targets”.

O’Mara also drew attention to the fact that Ireland has “committed as a country to reduce GHGs [greenhouse gases] by 51% by 2030”.

In what was an interesting perspective from the Teagasc director, O’Mara told those tuned into BeefCon21: “We can look at it [emissions reductions] as an agenda from government coming down on us, but we have to remember that the people who buy our product view climate change as a very important issue and this is central to our licence to farm and central to the selling of our products to international markets.”

The second leg of BeefCon21 will get underway on Wednesday, December 8. Stay tuned to Agriland for further updates on the Teagasc Beef Conference.