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Delivering Sustainability in Dairying at Moorepark 2021

In September, Teagasc Dairy Research in Moorepark, opened the farm gates to host an outdoor open day on Dairy Farming. Tom Murphy, Dairy Advisor, Teagasc Athenry reports on this year’s event themed “Delivering Sustainability,” emphasising the direction of the “tides of change” for our Dairy Industry

Following a detailed introduction by Pat Dillon (Head of Dairy Research, Teagasc), the audience were guided through the grounds in socially distanced groups as they were presented with the four main topics of the day. Following this, the attendees got the opportunity to walk through the nine different themed villages, where close to 150 poster type boards/presentations were on display. The respective researchers and specialists were on hand to explain the content, give clear take home messages and to answer the questions of some of Irelands leading Dairy farmers.

These themed villages (as listed below) showcased much of the relevant technical, financial and environmental related information required in managing a modern Dairy farm in Ireland.

  • Grass_10
  • Signpost Farm Programme
  • One Health approach
  • Breeding and reproduction
  • Creating great dairy farm workplaces
  • Modern farm infrastructure
  • Health & Safety
  • Vistamilk
  • Teagasc Food Research Programme

The four main presentations which preceded these are summarised below:

1. Delivering on sustainability

  • Dairy cows in Ireland have access to pasture for 71% of the year , and stocking rates are low (<2.1 livestock units (LU)/ha) with relatively low milk yield per cow
  • Cow locomotion/lameness is the key dairy cow welfare consideration on farm
  • Calf mortality in Ireland is relatively low. Better integration between the dairy and beef industries will maximise opportunities for animal welfare, the environment and economics
  • Total Irish agricultural greenhouse gas emissions currently are similar to 1998. Irelands dairy carbon footprint is one of the lowest in the world with plans to reduce it further through increased productivity and efficiency, movement to urea based fertilisers, and reduced crude protein concentration of bought in concentrate
  • Ammonia emissions reduced by 7.2% between 2018 and 2019. Achieving Irelands ammonia emissions target reduction is dependent on the widespread use of protected urea, reduced N fertiliser and the uptake of low emissions slurry spreading technologies
  • The most recent water quality report from the EPA (Water Quality in 2020) shows an increase in ecological water quality in Ireland compared to the previous report. Further gains will be possible based on management changes at farm level based on a focus of reducing N surplus and increasing N use efficiency
  • Water use on Irish dairy farms is substantially below most other countries in the world due to the abundance of rainfall, low purchased concentrate and lack of irrigation in the production systems
  • Habitat areas cover approximately 7.5% of the land area on dairy farms with specific plans required to increase the quantity and quality of these areas on all farms
  • Irish dairying is a significant net contributor to the production of human digestible protein.

2. Profitable milk production systems

  • Since 2007 milk output has increased by 68% and family farm income by 85%
  • The resilience of Irish dairy farms is underpinned by maintaining a low cost of production and minimal increase in debt
  • Substantial additional gains in farm profitability and environmental efficiency can be achieved using fertile and efficient cows fed on perennial ryegrass and white clover pastures
  • If Irish dairy farms drift away from efficient grass based systems towards higher input systems, it will undermine our economic and environmental sustainability, and potentially undermine the licence to farm
  • Any further increases in dairy farm output cannot result in increased nitrogen and phosphorous loss, or GHG and NH3 emissions
  • Ireland is uniquely positioned to exploit the growing demand for grass fed dairy products provided we continue to focus on our key competitive advantage of efficiently converting grazed grass into high quality milk products while at the same time continuing to focus on overall farm sustainability

3. Grazing management to increase N use efficiency

  • Nitrogen use efficiency can be improved on all dairy farms
  • More targeted use of nitrogen can help farmers make better grassland management decisions
  • Spring slurry applications should be used to reduce the input of chemical nitrogen fertiliser
  • Research has clearly shown the advantages of incorporating white clover in grassland swards to reduce nitrogen fertiliser requirement and to increase animal production and nitrogen use efficiency
  • In swards with 20–25% white clover, nitrogen fertiliser can be reduced by 50–100 kg N/ha
  • Avoid spreading excess nitrogen fertiliser on silage ground. Apply slurry, where available, using LESS and reduce chemical fertiliser N application according.

4. Sustainable breeding – what are the options?

  • The Irish national dairy cow breeding index, the EBI, is 20 years old and it continues to deliver profitable, low environmental hoofprint cows for the Irish dairy sector
  • A benefit from crossbreeding Holstein-Friesian with Jersey is still anticipated even in high EBI Holstein-Friesian herds, albeit the benefit is expected to be greater in lower EBI herds
  • Recent advances in reproductive technologies including sexed semen and in vitro embryo production offer further potential to accelerate genetic gain in both dairy and beef-for-dairy populations
  • The dairy-beef index is a tool, akin to the EBI for dairying, to help identify beef bulls for use on dairy females and, in doing so, increase the beef value of the surplus calves from the dairy herd
  • Using sexed semen to generate replacement heifers can reduce the proportion of male dairy calves in the calf crop from 30% to 3%, facilitating greater use of high dairy-beef index semen, and thereby increasing the proportion of beef-cross calves from 40% to almost 70%.

Overall, farmers who attended on any of the three days of this event were left in no doubt but that Dairy farming in Ireland in the future will be managed and regulated to address all of the concerns being raised by the wider society and the ultimate consumer.

If you'd like to read more and watch the virtual events from Moorepark Open Day 2021 you can find it here Moorepark Open Day

Teagasc Advisors are regular contibutors of articles here on Teagasc Daily. If you require any help or advice in the sustainable farming contact your local Teagasc Advisory Office here: Advisory Regions.