Hill farmers call for suspension of Climate Council over suckler cull proposal

Prof John Fitzgerald
Prof John Fitzgerald
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

INHFA President Colm O’Donnell has called on Minister Richard Bruton to suspend the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) over its proposal to cut the suckler herd.

In recommending a possible cut of up to 52pc in suckler cow numbers while giving the dairy sector a free pass O’Donnell stated “that the credibility of the CCAC has being damaged  and we now need to reassess all aspects relating to this committee including their science.”

In addressing the findings from the report O’Donnell stressed the need to clarify the analysis conducted in reaching the final conclusions.

 With regard to our suckler sector he questioned “if there are any Irish studies conducted in relation to green house gas (GHG) emissions on suckler systems that also factors in what carbon these lands sequesters and if there are similar studies for our sheep and dairy sectors.”

With regard to the dairy sector he added “how we need a full explanation on how emissions in this sector are calculated and if they include the full life cycle of the dairy cow or is it only based on milk solids produced through her lactation periods.

"In addition to this we need to see if, other embedded emissions generated throughout dairy products total life cycle are included such as the feeding of soya bean, higher electricity costs involved in cooling, transportation costs and production costs of any final product that should also factor in packaging, disposal and recycling.”

The contradictory nature of the report continued O’Donnell “is very evident in its call for a reduction in the national suckler herd to address an issue caused mainly by the dairy sector that being the reduction of GHG emissions to help combat localised environmental degradation on farms where intensive production and high ammonia emissions are polluting the atmosphere.”

The national herd should be cut by 30pc, to reduce agricultural emissions, the Climate Change Advisory Council advised last week.

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

The council is recommending that the national herd should be cut by 500,000 to 1.5 million cattle by 2030, and this should be from the five million 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," said Professor Fitzgerald.

"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 the reduction in the beef herd could potentially increase farm income."

Professor Fitzgerald (pictured) has also warned that the beef sector is on a 'knife-edge' across Europe and that farmers exiting beef would see their incomes rise if they switched to alternatives such as forestry and biomass crops.

Another key recommendation is that the carbon tax should be increased to €35 per tonne in Budget 2020, and then be raised further to at least €80 per tonne by 2030.

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