Tuesday 25 September 2012
Greenhouse gas myth
THE issue of Greenhouse Gas production from grazing livestock is a problem that our industry has to confront in the near future yet it is a topic that has struggled to attract serious attention from livestock farmers.
Looking at it from a farmer’s point of view it is easy to understand why this has been the case. Farmers are presently confronted by the very immediate problem of shocking poor grass harvests, depressing prices and predicted increases in animal feed costs. When you throw into the mix the fact that the greenhouse gas and carbon footprint debates quickly get into science that is only understood by the scientific community it is easy to understand why it is other things that are keeping farmers awake at night at the minute.
Against this background, Northern Ireland’s agri journalists received a briefing this week at AFBI’s Hillsborough facility. The purpose of the occasion was to get the story out about what has been going on in Northern Ireland to address the issue at local level. It is positive to report that the issue has been getting the attention of the farming, industry and research communities for over three years now. From the beef and sheep position, a dedicated group has been in place, established by the LMC promoted strategic forum and chaired by a leading processor representative. The committee includes DARD, and its associated research and education partners at Hillsborough and Greenmount. One of the problems identified early was just how gas output from livestock is measured and to address this, LMC participate in a high powered international committee which includes the superpowers of the global food industry. In this forum there is an ambition that the issue of addressing Greenhouse Gas output is of such global significance that it is pre competitive and shouldn’t be used by retailers to compete with each other. Whether or not that is achievable, an international standardised measurement is essential and all customers for our product want reduction in gas output.
So while it is a problem it is not without opportunity. In Northern Ireland we have long established facilities for measuring that put us at the forefront of work in this area. Everyone recognises that the easy way to deal with the problem is to stop production. That feeds into the “eat less meat” view and is flippant when we have identified agri food as a potential growth area for the economy. Furthermore in a world that needs more food over the coming decades what other way do we create food from grass, other than produce beef, lamb and milk. As for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Despite the high powered science and complex measuring systems, the good news is that it is really easy to achieve. More efficient and better farming doesn’t just reduce costs it also reduces greenhouse gas output. So imagine that reducing the age of slaughter and getting more beef into weight specification doesn’t just deliver a better price at the farm gate it reduces greenhouse gas output as well as a by-product. The greenhouse gas debate on farm is reduced to encouraging better and more efficient farming whatever the complexities for researchers and international standard setting committees.
(Views expressed in this article are those of the writer only and do not represent any organisation or association.)
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