‘We’re going to have to lead the sustainability agenda going forward’

The grass-based dairy model that we have in Ireland is very advantageous in terms of sustainability, according to Teagasc’s Dr. Brendan Horan.

Listing the advantages at today’s Kildalton Open Source Sustainable Dairy Farm Open Day, he said: “We know it’s highly profitable for dairy farmers; the more grass that’s grown and utilised on a dairy farm, the higher the profit.

“It’s relatively simple to manage, albeit the current drought conditions are making things very difficult. In the general stream of averages, grazing systems are much simpler than cut-and-carry, intensive production systems.

“There’s lots of science to show that it improves both the health and welfare of animals, so it’s advantageous from that perspective.

Environmentally, there’s no better system than our production system in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, conservation of soils, biological filters for chemicals and residues or even when you look around in terms of biodiversity.

“With new technologies and better ways to measure food, the quality of the product – whether it be in terms of taste or components – is far improved within a grazing system than in comparison to any other type of confinement system,” he said.

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However, as Ireland’s dairy industry is expanding, he warned that it is going to have to do better and lead the sustainability agenda going forward.

“If we’re to garner the highest market prices for our products internationally, we have to lead every other industry; even though we are quite strong in terms of these base characteristics.

“In terms of how we are going to produce milk into the future, any extra milk production on farms has to come very much from the traditional grazing method.

It’s all about maximising that grass growth curve over the season – whether it be through soil fertility, grazing management, incorporating white clover or new grass varieties – and aligning the animals’ requirements as close as possible to that grass growth curve.

“Basically, we are talking about compact-calving, high-EBI dairy animals. We know high-EBI animals are more fertile, but they’re also much more efficient at converting feed into product. When you think of the current feed crisis, that’s a really important characteristic.”

Horan also said that having compact calving at the start of the season, high health and high fertility status animals and long, productive lactations are all critical in order to maintain key advantages over our competitors.