Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 1 May 2017

Opinion: 'Green' experts are too busy demonising beef to get their facts right

Spreading slurry is really just a simple form of
Spreading slurry is really just a simple form of "nutrient re-cycling"

John Heney

Finally, I have noticed an alarming increase in very damaging and ill-informed anti-beef sentiments being expressed in the media recently

While I share their concern on global warming, it would appear that many of these high-profile 'green experts' base much of their arguments on limited research while ignoring issues such as soil carbon and the huge effect it has on the 'carbon cycle'

Delegates attending the recent World Meat Congress in Uruguay were given an entirely different perspective of this issue; they heard how cattle grazing techniques can actually ameliorate the impact of global warming by capturing and storing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

These views were expressed by Alan Savory of the Savory Institute in Colorado. A native of Zimbabwe, Savory has spent the last 50 years studying the causes of desertification around the world.

Mr Savoy is not alone, Judith D. Schwartz a freelance writer based in southern Vermont who has written on ecology and economics for Scientific American says that well maintained grassland is a very valuable carbon sink leading to suggestions that soil as a carbon storehouse could be a new weapon in the climate change battle.

The United Nations Framework on Climate Change through their 'Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry' (LULUCF) understands this concept also. LULUCF has also become an important part of the EU's climate policy which aims to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40pc below 1990 levels by 2030.

This programme examines the current use of land and strives to quantify the changes which our growing population has on land-use and land's ability to act as a carbon sink. It also studies the effect which remedial work could have in increasing the ability of degraded land's to absorb and store more soil carbon.

It appears that the carbon sequestration ability of grazed pasture has been vastly underestimated.

The EU now recognises the much broader issue of the 'carbon cycle' and the remarkable ability of grazing land to sequent carbon. Ireland's predominantly grass covered countryside with it large array of fences and hedges is ideally placed to benefit from this increased understanding of the issue.

Is it too much to hope that our own 'green' experts' would pause for a while, take a practical holistic look at the issues involved and cease 'demonising' what is one of Ireland's most important and valuable exports?

On the Farm

It's good to see the arrival of March and grass growth improving daily.

I was very fortunate to get my slurry tanks emptied during the mild drizzly weather in mid February, just before the recent storms arrived.

The mild conditions combined with the fact that I added plenty of water to the tanks before mixing meant that the slurry was absorbed into the soil very quickly. This should result in a good response from what is at last being recognised as a very valuable farming asset.

The new gang slats which I installed in the shed last summer are also working out very well with the fresh concrete causing very few problems from lameness.

The new 'man-hole' covers have also made the agitating and emptying processes much quicker and, more importantly, far safer.

The slurry went out onto fields set aside for first-cut silage, so after a number of disappointing years, 'yield wise'

I am hoping to increase my supply of silage for next winter and perhaps get the stock off the land a few weeks earlier.

At the moment I'm amazed at how well the fields stopped in early November look in comparison to fields stopped a month later.

Spreading slurry is really just a simple form of "nutrient re-cycling"; the cattle eat the silage and produce slurry which it appears still contains over 60pc of its nutrients.

It is then spread back out on the land to help produce next year's crop of silage and so on it goes year after year.

Of course to complete the re-cycling equation the waste produced by the people who consume the meat (Municipal waste) should also be put back on the land. However this is not as simple as it may sound.

The difficulty is the high levels of heavy metals (HM) contained in municipal waste sludge, these HMs could via plant and animal based foods, be ingested by humans posing extremely serious health problems. It would be nice to see a lot more research done in this area.

As well as getting the slurry spread, I also tidied up an old grove damaged in a storm some years ago.

There is always one job or other waiting to be addressed on a farm so at the moment I am waiting for a few fine days so that I can clear off the remaining branches around the grove. There are also some fences which I also had trimmed.

In relation to my cattle I am hoping to get some of them out onto grass in the next few weeks. Then depending on grass growth the remainder should follow them out some weeks later, weather permitting of course.

John Heney farms at Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary.


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