I recently raised the issue of speculation of cuts to the national herd and alternatives based on technology and innovation.
It was with some disbelief that farmers read the headline “Brazil to add 24m cattle as Ireland plans to cut herd” in the Irish Farmers’ Journal over the summer. I do not believe that the Government plans to cut the national herd. Indeed the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been clear in saying that we need a consistent level in the national herd. We know the efficiency with which beef is produced in this country, be it in Galway, Mayo or other locations across the country. It makes no sense and in fact would be immoral to cut the herd only for it to be replaced by beef from Brazil with the clear-felling of trees that is taking place there. The Government is to publish the climate action plan 2021 in the coming weeks which, according to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, will bring forward policies and measures to support the delivery of the programme for Government commitment to achieve a 51% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and put us on a pathway to climate neutrality no later than 2050. Farmers want and indeed need to do their bit. There is no ambiguity about that.
I ask for a debate in the coming weeks with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the sectoral plans for agriculture in advance of the climate action plan. Teagasc has done and is doing tremendous research with regard to emissions reduction in our herd. Earlier slaughter dates, as highlighted by Teagasc in Athenry in the Newford herd, have the potential to reduce national emissions as an alternative to herd reduction. The use of clover and multi-species swards is being trialled on a commercial scale as a means of reducing nitrogen. That is what Teagasc is doing in Grange in Dunsany. The benefits of clover have long been known about in terms of fixing nitrogen. It would be a regressive step to cut our national herd. I do not believe there is an appetite, desire or need to pursue that approach. It is within our means in respect of research in Teagasc and elsewhere to carry out a range of initiatives that can reduce emissions in the agricultural and environmental sectors, including additional planting of trees, particularly deciduous trees and creating riparian zones. There is significant potential regarding carbon sequestration and reducing emissions without impacting the national herd, which is so important in terms of rural Ireland, small communities and keeping people in rural Ireland. I look forward to a debate on areas surrounding the action in the coming weeks with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.