Irish government suggests culling cows to cut greenhouse gasses

By: Chris McCullough


Irish government figures suggested 65,000 cows per year need to be culled over a three-year period to meet emissions targets

Alt TEXT HERE
Dairy cow numbers in Ireland have risen since the abolishment of milk quotas in April 2015

The Irish dairy pot has been well and truly stirred after government figures suggested 65,000 cows per year need to be culled over a three-year period to meet emissions targets.

Released under a Freedom of Information, the numbers, deemed to be compulsory, came with an alarming cost of €200million per year to the taxpayers in the Republic of Ireland.

However, some farming bodies have hit back hard saying any such dramatic cull must be on a voluntary basis, as farmers had taken out business loans based on their cow numbers.

Dairy cow numbers in Ireland have risen since the abolishment of milk quotas in April 2015 with numbers currently totalling 1.5 million head.

Also incorporated in the country’s total cattle tally of seven million head are just over 900,000 beef cows.

Dairy cow numbers rose by 1.4% (22,800 head) to 1.6 million in 2022 but over the past decade have increased by around 40%. Latest January 2023 numbers suggest a fall to 1.5 million.

Beef cows numbers, however, have fallen about 17% over the same period and saw another 2.9% (27,100 head) drop from 2021 to 913,000.

"If there is to be a scheme, it needs to be a voluntary scheme," says Pat McCormack from the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association.

"That’s absolutely critical because there’s no point in culling numbers from an individual who has borrowed on the back of a huge financial commitment on the back of achieving a certain target that’s taken from under him.

"We should be investing in an infrastructure that can deliver from a scientific perspective. And we know low emissions are better and we should be continuing to invest in further science and research because that’s absolutely critical as we move forward.

"This isn’t a start. This isn’t the end. This is an environmental journey and agriculture can play a significant role there."

GHG reduction targets

The Irish government is focused on cutting GHG in the country with agriculture as a main target given it’s the single biggest greenhouse gas polluter, accounting for 37.5% of emissions in 2021.

With the sector emissions rising each year, the government is aiming for a 25% emissions reduction target for agriculture by 2030. This means agriculture has
been tasked to reduce its emissions by a total of 5.75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by the end of 2030.

Responding to the disclosed figures, Ireland’s Department for Agriculture
said the report was merely a "modelling document" and not a "final policy decision."

"The paper referred to was part of a deliberative process. It’s one of a number of modelling documents considered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and is not a final policy decision," a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine spokesperson says.

"As part of the normal work of government departments, various options for policy implementation are regularly considered."

Figures suggest 0.45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions could be saved for every 100,000 dairy cows cut, but it’s yet unclear how farmers will be paid for reducing their stock numbers.

"The government is fully committed to the long-term viability of the Irish sector including our farm families who are the bedrock of the industry.

"It’s a sector that’s the jewel in the crown of our overall agri-food sector. We will ensure that the sector is put on a firm footing for this and subsequent generations. The dairy sector already displays huge sustainability credentials, and we’re now stepping this ambition forward. Government is focused on providing voluntary, financially
attractive options for farmers which includes diversification."

Find new and used farm machinery for sale in NZ

Keep up to date in the industry by signing up to Farm Trader's free newsletter or liking us on Facebook