Delivering on sustainability
As part of Moorepark 21 Teagasc researchers and specialists prepared detailed papers on the theme Irish Dairying - Delivering Sustainably. Researcher Laurence Shalloo's paper was 'Delivering on sustainability' . Read a summary of the paper below.
Download full paper Delivering Sustainability(PDF)
The Irish dairy sector has gone through a transformational change over the past 10 years with a 77% increase in milk output and 43% increase in cow numbers in the period 2007– 2009 to 2020 (CSO, 2021).
To evaluate an industries performance it is important to look at its overall sustainability. There are three pillars to sustainability that must be included in any system evaluation:
Economic sustainability deals with the financial performance of the business including debt levels, profitability, etc.
The social element deals with both animal and people related topics. For example, does the farm have good welfare outcomes and standards for the farmer themselves, their employees and their animals?
Environmental and resource considerations for the farm (e.g. GHG emissions, nutrient use efficiency, etc).
This paper deals with a number of the aspects around social and environmental sustainability. The topics discussed include:
- cow welfare
- calf welfare
- greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
- ammonia (NH3) emissions
- water quality
- water use
- land use planning
On average dairy cows in Ireland have access to pasture for 71% of the year and are managed on farms that operate at low stocking rates (<2.1 livestock units (LU)/ha) with relatively low milk yield per cow.
Cow Welfare: Cow locomotion/lameness is the key dairy cow welfare consideration on farm
Calf Welfare: Calf mortality in Ireland is low when compared There is an increasing requirement to develop integration strategies between the dairy and beef industries in order to maximise opportunities for animal welfare, the environment and economics
GHG Emissions: Total Irish agricultural greenhouse gas emissions currently are similar to 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
Water Quality: 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 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
Biodiversity: 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 om all farms
Land use planning:Irish dairying is a significant net contributor to the production of human digestible protein.
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