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Opinion: Suckler-beef is sustainable

Emmanuel O Dea, Beef Plan suckler committee, reacts to Professor Gerry Boyle’s commentary surrounding dairy-beef production. The outgoing Teagasc director‘s claimed the body is now advocating a switch from sucklers to dairy-beef systems.

How can the director of Ireland’s foremost scientific body be so unscientific in his own opinion?

On what scientific basis can Prof. Gerry Boyle suggest that suckler farmers should be made rear dairy-beef in the interest of the environment?

For the past six years, €300M has been spent on improving of the Irish suckler herd’s genetic merit to improve the sector’s environmental impact further.

Dairy-beef production

How can genetics be so important in suckler-beef, but be of no relevance in dairy-beef?

The reality is genetics has a huge influence on the efficiency and sustainability of beef production. In fact, terminal traits have some of the highest heritability.

Less than 7% of the EBI is related to terminal traits. This is despite the fact that each year, up to 80% of dairy calves go straight into the beef sector.

On that basis, how can Prof. Boyle suggest that producing beef from a sector that is genetically designed to have poor terminal traits be somehow better for the planet?

The reality is that Prof. Boyle’s legacy will be that under his guidance, Teagasc has encouraged the Irish dairy sector to follow the New Zealand model, where the calf is an inconvenience.

Teagasc has previously admitted that it had not even considered the impact of calves when guiding the expansion of the dairy herd.

While lucrative to the dairy sector, that expansion has had a devastating impact on Ireland’s agricultural emissions.

I see this latest outburst as a vain attempt to try to avoid the social licences issue that had to be addressed in New Zealand.

Suckler-beef production is sustainable

Suckler-beef is sustainable. From 2004 to 2012, we had over 1M suckler births, and we were able to reduce agricultural emissions by 10%.

Based on the latest estimates for nitrates, the average suckler cow produces up to 63% fewer nitrates (and, by extension, emissions) than top-performing dairy cows.

How can Teagasc explain that they have been underestimating the nitrates of the dairy herd by up to 25% for so long?

Environmental decisions must be taken based on environmental outcomes. I hope that the new director is prepared to make his decisions based on scientific research.

Other reactions:
  • Opinion: Dairy-beef will be a potential option for some, but it is not a panacea – Read article.
  • ‘Rearing dairy-beef is not sustainable or viable’ – See article
  • Teagasc accused of showing a lack of respect for the suckler sector – Read
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