'Polluter pays' - Hill farmers call for cull of dairy herd
In a move which will likely their anger dairy farmers counterparts, hill farmers representatives the INHFA has become the first farming organisation to advocate a cull of dairy cows.
It comes as the EPA has said that higher dairy cow numbers (+2.7pc) were the most significant driver of an increase in agriculture emissions by 1.9pc last year.
Dairy cow numbers have increased by 27pc in the last five years while greenhouse gas emissions increased by 8pc over that time. However, dairy farming is consistently the most profitable farming enterprise with incomes in the sector far outweighing those from other enterprises.
INHFA President Colm O'Donnell has called into question the sustainability of the dairy expansion in light of what he claimed was a pending animal welfare crisis this spring.
He said the organisations concerns relate to the expected births of over 750,000 dairy bull calves next spring which he claimed 'nobody wants'.
"We are deeply concerned that there doesn't seem to be a plan on how to manage this," he said.
"Recent reports that our state advisory service who were encouraging this expansion hadn't factored in how they would deal with the increasing number of dairy calves is appalling.
"It also raises the question that if they miss something as basic as this then what else have they missed.
"There are also uncomfortable questions for many of our co-ops, our lending institutions and the Government. All of these facilitated and encouraged farmers to expand and should not now be allowed walk away from the mess they created," he said.
O'Donnell said with export options tightening and fewer beef farmers willing to take a risk on these calves it is vital that the Department, advisors, banks and co-ops work with those dairy farmers in the delivery of adequate animal housing and the necessary labour to ensure no animal welfare issue arises" stated O'Donnell.
This he said "should be seen as a short term measure.
However, he said in the medium to long term the most effective way of ensuring this is through a cull of the dairy herd.
"The details and nature of any cull should be worked out over the coming months to give dairy farmers enough time to plan for the following year.
O'Donnell also said the obvious starting point is dairy farmers in nitrate derogation territory and those exporting slurry.
"While this proposal may seem drastic, the farm leader outlined how it is not unprecedented.
"The overgrazing of some commonage lands in the late 1990's resulted in a mandatory 30pc stocking reduction on all commonage farmers .
"No other sector was asked to help in delivering a solution as the issue was addressed on the basis of the polluter pays principle and this principle must now apply to the current crisis in the dairy sector," he said.