A Teagasc Signpost webinar this week described how to understand and reduce the carbon footprint of your beef or dairy farm.

The carbon footprint being discussed is the figure that comes to farms following their Bord Bia inspection where a sustainability questionnaire is completed along with the quality assurance scheme.

The carbon footprint takes account of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of food produced - for example, a kilogramme of liveweight gain. The greenhouse gases that are being accounted for are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Speaking on the webinar, Séamus Kearney of the Teagasc Signpost programme noted that on an average suckler to weanling farm, 89% of emissions were animal-related, coming from animal digestion, slurry or manure at grazing.

On an average dairy farm of 75 to 100 cows, animals accounted for 65% of emissions with inputs - fertiliser, fuel, animal feed, transport, etc - accounting for 35% of emissions.

Get the basics right

Kearney went on to describe how lowering greenhouse gas emissions is compatible with good farming and advised farmers to get the basics right on soil fertility, herd fertility, animal health and performance and grassland management.

He also noted that the use of low emissions slurry spreading (LESS) equipment and the use of protected urea can also reduce fertiliser use.

Explaining how this can reduce the carbon footprint Séamus explained that on dairy farms there was a potential to reduce the average farm’s carbon footprint by 10% to 12% in 2022.

He listed several actions that can be taken to reduce the carbon footprint:

  • One week extra at grass - 1% reduction.
  • Quality grass in the summertime - 1% reduction.
  • Decrease meal feeding by 100kg/cow - 1% reduction
  • .

  • EBI + €10/year - 9% reduction.
  • 25% less chemical nitrogen - 5% reduction.
  • 100% protected urea use - 7% reduction.
  • LESS slurry spreading - 2% reduction.
  • 20% energy reduction - 1% reduction.
  • By focusing on earlier turnout, good-quality grass in the summertime, reducing meal feeding by 100kg/cow and switching to protected urea use and spreading slurry using LESS equipment, a reduction of 10% to 12% in the carbon footprint can be achieved.

    Looking at beef, Séamus advised farmers to focus on improved animal health and survival, shortening the calving interval and maximising grass usage.

    While fertiliser use was much lower on beef farms, there are still improvements to be made and simple things such as having grassland at a soil pH of 6.5 can improve fertiliser use efficiency.

    Séamus commented that once the basics are right, farmers can move on to looking at other options such as multispecies swards.