Never have farming and agricultural practices been so questioned on scientific grounds.
The population has, in general, been happy to accept the science behind the COVID-19 vaccination developments but they are much more reluctant to accept the science that is already visible to control methane production in ruminants. But it is not only in livestock farming.
Until very recently, farmers wanting to reclaim and drain boggy, swampy pastures qualified for grants covering a significant proportion of the cost. Now, we are told that a mistake was made and these reclaimed fields are contributing to global warming by emitting methane and that they should be rewetted.
While the Paris accord of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C has been constantly trotted out, the Paris accord also stitched in that the preservation of food production capacity has always been an absolute priority and should not be jeopardised.
From an Irish point of view, the use of much of our land, especially in the disadvantaged areas, has to be more seriously thought about. So while the world may have been alarmed at the ‘phasing down’ rather than ‘phasing out’ of coal production at COP26 in Glasgow, the potential capacity to reduce methane output from our stock is, at this time, far greater than the capacity to capture the carbon produced from burning coal for energy production.
We should keep a sense of proportion when making comparisons. The other area that has received little attention is the efficiency of nitrogen utilisation in grassland farming. The common assertion is that only 25-30% of applied nitrogen is utilised. The inference being that the rest is not only wasted, but is actually polluting water courses and groundwater. This is not correct. About 65-70% of the nitrogen applied during the growing season is used by the grass, which is converted into meat or milk by the cattle.
Clearly, there is then an excretion of urine and dung, which contains nitrogen that can and is recycled as fertiliser. The 25% efficiency factor that is so often quoted does the sector an injustice and should be contradicted when put forward.