Ann Fitzgerald: 'Stop demonising suckler sector - blame and pain should be shared'

Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

I've come up with a solution that would make a major dent in Dublin's homelessness problem - knock down Trinity College and replace it with medium-density housing.

Under statutory planning guidelines, I reckon the college's 47 acres could provide about 650 housing units, which could home about 2,000 people, right where such accommodation is needed.

Of course, that is never going to happen. Trinity is not just a good school on a nice site. It is recognised as an integral historical, social, cultural and recreational asset in the heart of our capital city, with a value far beyond the purely monetary.

So what's behind my bold suggestion? It is in reaction to the publication of the Climate Change Advisory Council Annual Report 2019, several contributors to which are attached to said college.

It's not that I have anything against Trinity (which I happily attended myself), but rather a reflection of how angry I feel at the report, which doesn't just target one sector, agriculture, but fires both barrels at one sub-section, beef farming.

The report lays out three scenarios for reducing Ireland's agricultural emissions by 2030. In each, the dairy herd is maintained at 2018 levels, while the suckler herd is cut by 15pc, 30pc or 53pc.

Having identified the expansion of the dairy herd as the major contributor to increases in agricultural emissions, the solution offered is to halve the suckler herd! That's akin to saying, Peter punched Paul so let's put Paul in prison.

The report adds: "Further expansion of the dairy herd should only occur within environmental limitations and not increase the risk of adverse environmental impacts..."

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But, from what I am seeing, when suckler farmers exit the sector, most of the land is going into dairying.

Teagasc Head of Economics Trevor Donnellan recently said that when this happens, it could result in a doubling of the stocking rate and a tripling of nitrogen use on this land.

Rather than demonising suckling, I suggest it is the last line of defence in the rampant spread of commercial dairying and the associated burdens it places on the environmental chain.

Moreover, the less beef we produce, the more that's produced in Brazil, where the area the size of a football pitch of rainforest is being felled every minute.

We all know that dairying is by far the most profitable farming enterprise but, in the current climate, maximum profitability is not the only, nor perhaps even the critical, aspect to land usage.

Central to both the marketing of our country as a tourist destination as well as the marketing of our food as a prime product is our green image, which is based on extensive grazing.

Additionally, the people who operate these systems tend to be integrated in their communities and their spending patterns integral to rural economies.

I'm not a Luddite, but the picture is not as simple as its being painted; and we are already making changes.

One other issue I have is why the prime target of the emissions debate is food, which is a necessity of life, when there is little mention of luxuries?

There has been some recent talk about flight shaming - air travel is responsible for more emitting more than 650 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year - but what about the massive personal care industry?

With the cliff edge looming, surely the time has passed for fripperies like hair extensions, fake tans and false nails?

Instead of dumping all the sh*t on suckling's door (pun fully intended), the time has come for others to share the pain and the responsibility.

Indo Farming


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