Martin Coughlan: This 'slash beef-grow dairy' approach is dangerously flawed

File photo
File photo
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

If you're a beef finisher or suckler farmer, Professor John Fitzgerald's comments about protecting the dairy sector are about as inflammatory as it gets.

Professor Fitzgerald, chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, is effectively telling the beef sector that it should shoulder the responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions while the dairy sector continues to expand.

The industrial dairy production model that has developed since the abolition of quotas has real environmental problems built into it.

That model, with its emphasis on massively increased cow numbers, and increased fertiliser and feed inputs, is out of kilter with all climate change targets. When I started farming in north Waterford in 1984, my beef finishing enterprise fitted into a countryside jigsaw that saw my neighbours' farming practices include tillage, sheep, dairy, suckler, pig and poultry, with many farms a mixture.

Today, the vast majority of my neighbours are exclusively dairy.

The 'slash beef-grow dairy' policy is in my opinion dangerous.

It assumes dairying will remain profitable despite numerous studies that point to huge fluctuations in world milk prices.

It ignores the fact that Irish grass-based beef production is a huge economic driver of rural communities. The fact that Irish beef farming is under pressure is not the fault of those who have committed their lives and their money to the business.

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Beef brand

It's down simply to the fact that no government has ever committed to funding a proper live export business or created a beef brand that foreign consumers can really identify with.

There are huge business interests in this country outside agriculture that see farming as a climate change soft target, a way to divert attention from their own responsibilities. And I feel Professor Fitzgerald and his colleagues have bought into this 'fake news'.

It's an approach that can only be counter-productive and economically destructive in the long-term for rural communities.

Indo Farming

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