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Big future for Future Beef

Future Beef is the new Teagasc suckler beef demonstration farm programme. It consists of a network of 24 demonstration farms positioned right across the island supported by three experienced advisors. Martina Harrington Future Beef Programme Manager, tells us more in detail

Key objectives of Future Beef Programme

  • Create more sustainable and profitable farms
  • Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) and ammonia emissions
  • Improve water quality
  • Improve biodiversity

Regional Farms

Each farm is typical of their region in terms of farm size, soil type, production system, stock numbers etc. The farms range in size from 13ha to 122ha, while herd size extends from 14-suckler cows right up to 112 cows.  Systems represented on farms within the programme include:

  • selling weanlings
  • finishing heifers and steers
  • producing under 16 month bulls
  • with four farms buying in dairy-bred calves.

Mixed beef and sheep farms are also featured, with flock sizes of 50 to 250 ewes. There are also two organic farms. All within the one programme.

When designing the programme, we wanted an ‘Operation Transformation’ type model. There is one farmer, a ‘leader’ for the majority of systems within the beef sector – not a small task in the context of Irish agriculture. Regionally, each farm faces the same climatic and environmental challenges as their farming neighbours, while nationally, the financial and time pressures are the same. Irish beef farmers produce a top-quality product that is sold worldwide and the Future Beef programme will demonstrate how it can be even better.

Future Beef team support

With the support of the Future Beef team, each farmer will endeavour to adopt efficiencies and technologies, new and old, to make beef farming more profitable, while also making it more environmentally and socially sustainable. You would have to be living under a rock not to be aware of the growing concern in all sectors regarding climate change. This climate change is been driven by ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), carbon dioxide (CO2 ), nitrous oxide (N2 O), and methane (CH4 ).

In agriculture, methane makes up 68% of total Irish agricultural emissions,while nitrous oxide makes up another 29.3%. Carbon dioxide only accounts for 2.7% of our agricultural emissions.

How are methane and nitrous oxide produced?

Methane is a by-product of digestion by ruminants, i.e cattle, sheep and goats. In the rumen, bugs break down forage, a by-product of which is biogenic methane gas. The more fibrous the material, the more methane is produced. Stored animal manure is also a source of methane. When slurry is stored in anaerobic conditions, the bacteria in the slurry break down the organic content and release methane gas. Nitrous oxide (N2 O) is a gaseous form of nitrogen produced in the soil when microbes break down nitrogen (N).

Last year in Ireland, due to the size of the agricultural sector in comparison to other sectors, we produced 37.1% of these gases, up 1.6% on 1990. As can be seen from the chart below, the next largest emitter is transport at 17.9%. As we are such a large part of the problem, we must become a large part of the solution. To that end last year, Teagasc launched the Signpost Programme and the Future Beef Programme  comes under its umbrella. As part of the Future Beef programme, we will be supporting farmers to adopt technologies to reduce the level of GHG and ammonia emission from participant farms.

For more information see Teagasc's Future Beef Programme and stay tuned to Teagasc social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for regular updates on all 24 farms, plus information on upcoming farm walks and on farm meetings.