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Independent.ie

Saturday 10 December 2016

Going eco-friendly makes good sense

Gerry Giggins

Published 08/02/2012 | 06:00

THE United Nations has stated that by 2030, the planet will need to produce 50pc more food to feed the ever-growing world population. This increase in food production will have to be achieved with less land, water and energy while greenhouse gas emissions are also reduced. Major global food players have already started taking the issue of carbon footprint very seriously and are looking for suppliers at all levels to play their part. Agriculture, and in particular ruminant livestock production, is widely perceived to contribute a significant proportion of carbon emissions and is therefore very much in the spotlight.

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Carbon footprinting is a process of determining the emissions of three greenhouse gases produced during an animal's lifetime, namely: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

There is a growing interest among the retail sector and the general public in the production of food in a way that has least impact on climate change. Ireland's green and natural image helps sell Irish beef around the world. Being able to prove that Irish beef is produced in an environmentally friendly manner will help the promotion and sale of Irish beef overseas.

Ireland has a great opportunity to accurately establish our carbon-footprint output and then select the most carbon-friendly beef production systems. The marketing of our beef internationally by displaying our low-carbon footprint and our ongoing efforts at lowering our carbon output will enhance the reputation of our beef.

The main source of methane in beef production comes from the digestive system of all animals. By increasing growth rates through better dry-matter intake, feed utilisation and improved feed conversion efficiencies animals will grow faster and more efficiently and total methane emissions per kilo of beef produced will be lowered. Some simple measures that can be undertaken to help reduce methane emissions include:

• Making best use of grazed grass during the grazing season;

• Producing high-quality forages that are dry, well fermented and palatable;

• Balancing the dietary fibre and energy levels within an animal's diet when housed to improve feed efficiency;

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• Lowering calf mortality;

• Raising the carcass meat yield;

• Maximising feed intake during the growing and finishing period;

• Improving fuel efficiency of farm machinery by servicing regularly;

• Choose new equipment based on its energy efficiency.

Improving the productivity of breeding stock will enable more slaughtered stock to be produced per breeding animal. Also, increasing the longevity of breeding stock and minimising the age of the cow's offspring at slaughter will help to cut the time an animal is emitting methane on farm. Therefore cows should be selected for breeding based on health status, breeding history, production and conformation class. By doing this cattle will be bred to deliver better carcass classification and improved efficiency.

The timing and efficiency of slurry and manure application to match crop demand will help minimise wastage. Most of the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the diet of livestock are excreted as solids and urine. Taking advantage of this by optimising manure and slurry application will have financial benefits while also producing better-quality forage crops.

Moving towards systems with accurate and lower chemical fertiliser usage will save money and cut farm emissions. Greater use of legumes such as clover will reduce the need for additional nitrogen application and provide an effective way of reducing nitrous oxide emissions.

All these steps demonstrate there is a direct link between economic performance and sustainable farming.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist and can be contacted by emailing ggiggins@keenansystem.com

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