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Peter Hynes: We urgently need a fact-based strategy to challenge the relentless anti-livestock farming agenda

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There is still no large scale research project into carbon sequestration from a grass-based system.

There is still no large scale research project into carbon sequestration from a grass-based system.

There is still no large scale research project into carbon sequestration from a grass-based system.

No matter where we turn the anti-agriculture agenda seems to be lurking. On RTE recently we had ‘What Planet Are You On’ telling everyone to steer clear of meat and dairy.

The online and print media are bombarding us with articles on water quality, animal welfare etc and when you go on to social media there is an army of keyboard warriors campaigning to put us livestock farmers out of business.

The big question is how do we defend ourselves as an industry.

Letters of complaint to RTE or the papers doesn’t really cut it in my book.

The bottom line is that controversy sells with media outlets requiring viewers and clicks to drive revenue.

Channel 4 invested a seven-figure sum in The Meatless Farm Co, a deal which saw the broadcaster take equity in the company in return for advertising and air time.

Also in Britain, The Guardian newspaper has in the past few years adopted a funding model that in some cases see significant donors play a role in setting the editorial agenda.

So, do we as an industry just sit back and take it on the chin ?

Do we stand up and fight bank by pouring millions into pro-farming media campaigns?

Or do we take the long view and wait and see how consumers respond to the negative press about livestock farming?

The very fact that meat and dairy sales have increased this year in Ireland and Britain should give us confidence enough that while the anti-farming brigade may make plenty of noise, their views, so far, have had little impact on consumer decision.

That said, we as an industry clearly need a long-term strategy.

There seems to be many views on what way we as farmers should be farming yet there really is no clear cut strategy on how we will sell ourselves long-term.

If you want to stay at the top the bar needs to be set high.

Quite frankly, the target of reducing Irish agri emissions 15pc by 2030 is nothing short of a joke. We could drop the 15pc a lot faster.

Splash plate ban

The splash plate should have been banned 12 months ago.

The expert advice is that we should all be spreading protected Urea yet CAN is still on the market.

I recently heard of a farmer who saving €2,500 on his fertiliser bill by using CAN.

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We all love the environment, but profit margins rule in farming so where is the incentive for us to use protected urea?

As of yet there is still no large-scale research project into carbon sequestration from a grass-based system.

For an industry that exports €14.6 billion worth of dairy and meat every year you would think we could set aside €10 million over a five-year period to deliver these kind of answers swiftly.

We need real data and results and we need them fast across grass, woodland and hedgerow carbon sequestration.

The British agricultural sector has a target of net zero by 2040. That’s a bit far-fetched one might think, but in the short term it is a great selling point for consumers and it buys some quality time to play catch-up with some research projects on carbon emissions.

They see renewable energy as a key part of achieving this target. They are also targeting increased organic matter in soils and wider hedgerow margins. They seem to have their eye on all the targets.

I have no doubt our farm is carbon neutral, but like other dairy farmers I need support and the data to prove this.

I still enjoy being in the premier league of food production, but with the industry having no clear strategy, I fear relegation to a lower division may come sooner rather than later.

Peter Hynes farms in Aherla, 
Co Cork with his wife Paula


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