There is proof that farmers are improving and becoming more efficient

Mattie Fox

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Mattie Fox

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newsroom@longfordleader.ie

Cattle

Farmers are becoming more efficient, says Mattie Fox

I read a terrific article recently by Michael Geary, of Agriland, that appeared on Facebook, which caused me to research.

The following statement was made by Professor Tom Boland of University College Dublin, at a gathering of the Agriculture Science Associations “Meat Myth Busters” event last week in the Killashee Hotel on Tuesday, February 18:

“Of the 560 trillion grams [teragrams] of methane emitted to the atmosphere every year by ruminant livestock, 550 trillion grams are removed.”

During the talk Prof Boland referred to the misinformation that is being propagated through the media when discussing the impact that livestock has on the production of greenhouse gas emissions, and said that the same metrics should be used when comparing it with other industries.

He further clarified “Two thirds of the total land surface are habitable; 50% of this area is termed agricultural land. Two thirds of this are suitable for livestock production; one third is available for cropping. For example, the Burren in Co Clare can only be used for livestock production.”

Prof Boland used the next part of his presentation to focus on greenhouse gas emissions, and the misinformation that is propagated around this area as well.

He was unremittingly forceful in explaining that “24% of global GHG emissions arise from agriculture – 60% of which comes from livestock production, according to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.”

The Professor went on “If we delve a bit further into the emissions coming from livestock production, 40% come from enteric fermentation – which is the digestion of cellulose in the rumen by microbes. In other words, this is the tax that animals pay for when they produce methane.”

Next he used the metaphor of ‘sticks being used to beat the livestock industry’ when he stated, without reservation; “Furthermore, this is one of the big sticks that are used to beat the ruminant sector. However, we need to be cognisant about how we compare different sectors. For example, the 14.5% emissions attributed to livestock only look at life-cycle emissions.

“However, if we look at direct emissions, livestock only accounts for 5%, while transport emissions total 14%.

“Therefore, we need to use the same metrics when comparing one sector to the other.”
He said that Ireland does not have the heavy industry of other countries.

Prof Boland went on to explain how Ireland is like a developing country when it comes to its GHG emissions profile.

He explained: “Our GHG emissions profile is like that of a developing country, instead of a developed country.

“The reason why one-third of our GHG emissions comes from agriculture is that we don’t have a heavy industry, compared to other developed countries. We have more cows relative to our population.”

“The EU average for agricultural emissions is 10%. However, if we were to compare against other sectors we would come off very well in terms of emissions.

“New Zealand, Australia and Uruguay have similar emissions profiles to Ireland in terms of agriculture, but there is proof that we are improving and becoming more efficient.”

Prof Boland had much praise of the agricultural industry, and said that it had played a role in helping the economic recovery, since the crash in 2008.

He outlined: “In 2008, the agri-food industry was the key driver of economic recovery. Since then, we have seen an increase in the number of dairy cows and a reduction in the suckler herd.

“During that same period, enteric methane emissions only increased by 10%. Therefore, the economic value of our products is increasing at a much faster rate than our emissions.”

He went on to talk about methane and carbon dioxide (CO2), and the impacts each have on the atmosphere.

He explained: “Heavy industries produce a lot of CO2, yet our small country that produces good-quality food products gets hammered about GHG emissions on a much more frequent basis.”

“Both (methane and CO2) are listed as GHGs, yet they act completely differently from each other. Methane emitted today will be removed from the atmosphere in 12 years time. However, CO2 released into the atmosphere today will stay there for centuries.”

“On the flip side, stabilising CO2 emissions results in continuous warming for decades – which is obviously bad and, compared to methane, is a much bigger problem.”