Conferences where farmers talk to farmers about climate - and environmentalists talk to environmentalists about farming - are echo chambers with no purpose. Why don’t environmental NGO’s invite credible agricultural scientists to speak at their events?
And why don’t the farm organisations invite the environmental pillar to their meetings? Is it because neither side will give the other a hearing? Instead, they fight on Twitter.
Various reports show that global demand for beef and dairy is growing as the world population soars, even though, in the first world, many of us are moving to consuming less red meat.
Ireland, because of where it’s plonked on the planet, grows an abundance of grass. Irish cows graze outdoors for 240 plus days a year and so it’s claimed to be the most natural place to produce beef and dairy. In other warmer and colder countries, livestock is mainly fed indoors; including in Denmark, where I was last week and where the average dairy herd size is around 200 cows compared to Ireland’s 80.
Right now we urgently need a deep-dive, independent, social, economic and environmental impact study on the future of Irish livestock farming. Everything including climate targets, export targets, dependence on beef and dairy by other businesses, value of sector, age profile, renewable biomass land use, farm debt, demand (and so on) should all be put into the mix.
It’s plain silly to think farmers want to pollute rivers. It’s also silly to think environmentalists want to make us all vegans
A task force made up of scientists and economists (and no stakeholders) should be appointed by Government to coldly run the numbers and come up with a sensible, sustainable and realistic roadmap for Irish livestock farming towards 2050.
It’s plain silly to think farmers want to pollute rivers. It’s also silly to think environmentalists want to make us all vegans. But at times, it is hard not to think so. On the Venn diagram, the vast majority of the rest of us make up the confused carnivorous consumers who care about the planet.
Maybe it’s time we took less notice from campaigning environmental NGOs and lobbying farmers and heard more from pragmatic environmental and agricultural academics, scientists and economists.
There are environmentalists who want to cut dairy cow numbers but with no transition plan that makes sense. Have they visited farms? Then, there are farmers who say if we reduce production it will just pass to a less sustainable producer. Binary arguments are doing neither side any favours.
The dairy sector needs to work harder to meet environmental targets. I believe the dairy farmers when they tell me they’re implementing measures to reduce impacts on soil, water and air. But some environmentalists give the impression they just don’t want to believe as opposed to don’t believe that dairy and beef farmers are genuine in their efforts to meet legally binding climate mitigation targets.
In Denmark, where I visited a number of organic dairy and pig farms, we heard how European animal farming accounts for 7% of total global animal related agricultural emissions. Irish dairy farmers account for 6% of total EU milk produced and around 1% of global milk production. Would you believe those figures listening to the debate?
Irish dairy farmers are enjoying record prices - albeit with huge input costs. They also need to reduce methane emissions on their farms to hit climate targets. So I want to hear the academic, scientific and economic opinion on how this can be achieved fairly. Let’s cut through the spin for once and for all.
It’s a pity we don’t have a Cody V Shefflin All-Ireland hurling final for obvious reasons. But buckle up. It’s sure to be some final between Limerick and Kilkenny. Even if you are not a fan, tune in and see. Greatest sport on earth!