Cut beef herd by 30pc to reduce agricultural emissions - climate group

"Farmers make a lot of money out of milk but they don't make any money out of beef...we need to help the beef farmers transition so they use their land in other ways to make more money and reduce emissions."
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

The national herd should be cut by 30pc, to reduce agricultural emissions, despite experts warning it could make matters worse.

Ireland’s target for 2020 to reduce greenhouse emissions by 20pc, compared with 2005 levels, could fall short and reach just 5pc instead, according to the annual review of the Climate Change Advisory Council.

One of the key recommendations of the report, which had a particular focus on agriculture, is a reduction in the beef herd.

"The current trend of rising cow numbers is unsustainable and a reduction in the national herd is necessary," according to Professor Fitzgerald, chair of the council.

He said the national herd should be cut by 0.5-1.5m cattle and this should be from the 5m head of cattle in the beef herd, with the dairy herd ‘protected’ as it delivers viable incomes.

"In framing our recommendations, we wanted to protect the dairy sector. Initially, we said right we’ve got to cut cattle numbers, cut everything. But dairying is very profitable. So to force cuts there would be damaging to farm incomes, where as seeing the reduction in the beef herd could potentially increase farm income."

There are obstacles to this, he admitted, including convincing farmers forestry is a positive option.

However, he admitted the possibility exiting beef farmers might look at leasing land to dairy farmers was a concern as dairying is more intensive than beef production.

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Head of Economics at Teagasc Trevor Donnellan recently said exiting beef farmers will most likely lease their land to dairy farmers looking for additional land.

This, he said, could see a doubling of the stocking rate and a tripling of nitrogen use for a hectare of land moving from beef to dairy.

“A policy designed to persuade farmers to exit beef production entirely could be less successful in reducing GHG emissions than a policy that encourages beef farmers to stay in beef farming and merely operate at a lower production intensity,” Donnellan said.

According to Professor Fitzgerald the dairy herd has reached its limit and he admitted “if a reduction in beef was replaced by dairy it would not make a change."

The proposals to cut the beef herd was criticised by the IFA, which says such a reduction in the suckler herd would have an economic impact in the region of €1.5bn.

Thomas Cooney, IFA Environment Chairman said the Council’s “lack of vision and policy direction, to drive the delivery of the 18.5mt of carbon savings identified in Teagasc’s Climate Roadmap, instead falling back on the lazy option of targeting food production.”

IFA President Joe Healy said the suckler herd underpins a huge part of the economy and said if Ireland is to be real about climate change "let's produce product in the most efficient place".


Professor Fitzgerald also said Ireland must err on the side of conservatism that things may be worse and we must plan for this.

Last year, he said, was the fourth warmest year on record and summer heatwaves could occur every year and Ireland must err on the side of conservatism that things could get worse.

"We see the effects of heatwaves in Europe, are we planning for that?

"I am concerned that the housing and building standards have not looked at the problem of heatwaves," he said and that hospitals and nursing homes in particular could be faced with future problems as older people are more vulnerable to rising temperatures. 

He also said flooding is going to increase and questioned if Ireland is planning for increased flooding as sea level rises may be greater than currently being planned for. 

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