Bord Bia gathers a range of sustainability and productivity metrics on farms through the audit process for the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) and the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS).

By analysing the most recent full-year audit data from 2022 and comparing it against previous years, we can see the areas in which farmers are making progress.

Dairy efficiency

Dairy carbon efficiency has been steadily improving since Bord Bia began carbon footprinting Irish dairy farms.

Preliminary results of audits conducted in 2023 indicated a dairy carbon footprint of 0.91. This figure will be finalised once all audits conducted in December 2023 have been fully certified following closeout.

The average three-year carbon footprint of SDAS farms has fallen from 0.94 in 2018 to 2020 to 0.91 during 2020 to 2022. We can also see a sustained improvement in output per cow in that period.

Table 1 shows average milk solids (MS) per cow have risen from 424kg in 2020 to 443kg in 2022.

The average dairy herd size has increased from 92 to 96 dairy cows. This corresponds with an increase in total farm emissions due to the expansion of the dairy herd size.

However, the use of protected urea and low emissions slurry spreading (LESS) on Irish dairy farms has increased significantly in recent years.

Important actions

These are important actions, as recommended by the Teagasc MACC, that farmers are taking to mitigate against GHG emissions in dairy production. In 2022, 70% of SDAS farms reported using LESS, up from 35% in 2020 (Figure 2).

Bord Bia began tracking protected urea usage in 2021. Its usage has risen from 10% of total chemical nitrogen applied on SDAS farms in 2021 to 18% in 2022 (Figure 1).

SBLAS carbon footprint

The average carbon footprint of beef farms in the SBLAS in 2022 is 9.24. This is an average figure for all beef systems audited under the scheme.

Table 3 shows productivity by six types of beef enterprises as tracked by the audit. Beef systems that produce the highest output (ie liveweight gain) relative to total emissions will have a lower carbon footprint.

Preliminary results of audits conducted in 2023 indicated a beef carbon footprint of 9.38. This figure will be finalised once all audits conducted in December 2023 have been fully certified following closeout.

Beef performance

Total SBLAS beef farm emission increased from 142 tonnes per farm in 2021 to just under 150 tonnes in 2022 as shown in Table 2. This increase can be attribute to an increase in livestock units from 46 to 49.

The average carbon footprint also increased slightly in 2022 (from 9.16). However, the three-year average carbon footprint of member beef farms has been stable at 9.23 since 2018 to 2020.

Animal productivity has also improved: the average liveweight gain across SBLAS farms increased by nearly 7% in 2022, while output rose from 467kg of beef per hectare in 2021 to 475kg/ha in 2022 (Table 2).

Adoption of key measures on beef farms

Beef members have made steady progress in the adoption of measures to reduce emissions, as recommended by the Teagasc MACC: usage of CAN has fallen from 92% of chemical N applied to 81% in 2022 (Figure 3). Use of protected and straight urea continues to rise.

Usage of the splash plate has fallen from 82% to 61% in 2022, as 39% of beef farmers report using LESS in 2022, eg trailing shoe or shallow injection (Figure 4).

About the data

The information reported is from four sources:

  • Animal Identification and Movements (AIM) database from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
  • Daily liveweight gain information from the ICBF (for beef only).
  • Milk production data from dairy processors (dairy only).
  • The sustainability survey.
  • AIMS data is used in the carbon footprint calculation and to display livestock units and stocking rate.

    The data gathered from the sustainability survey is provided by the farmer as part of their audit and is reliant on the accuracy of records provided by the farmer.

    All milk data is provided by dairy co-ops and is used to calculate fat and protein corrected milk (FPCM) and milk solids. A minimum of eight months’ milk supply data is required to calculate the carbon footprint.

    The carbon footprint is reported as kilo of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents) per kilo of liveweight gain (LWG) for beef and per kilogramme of fat and protein corrected milk (FPCM) for dairy.