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Opinion: Astounded that we are looking to reduce our national herd of dairy cows

In this opinion piece, Macra president, Elaine Houlihan, hones in on proposals to cut dairy cow numbers.

Much has been written about the calamitous pollution going into the atmosphere from dairy cows in this country.

To counter this, a proposal is being worked on to reduce the size of the national dairy herd by 10% over the next three years.

I am astounded that we are looking to reduce our national herd of dairy cows by 180,000 head in the next three years, while Brazil is planning to increase its herd by 30 million head by 2030.

The emissions all go into the same atmosphere, with the difference that Ireland is not cutting down a rainforest to meet the global demand for the products that we produce.

From an ecological perspective, milk production in Ireland produces fewer greenhouse gasses and uses less water than any other country. Even with that, we can do more.

Whilst farmers are portrayed in some media outlets as the destroyers of our environment with no care about our future, nothing could be further from the truth.

Farmers receive the land in trust and hold it in trust for the next generation.

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Data centres

When looking at greenhouse gases, it is important to look at the whole story. There are currently approximately 1800 people employed in data centres in Ireland, according to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

This sector, in addition to providing 1,800 jobs, consumes 18% of the electricity produced in this country, which equates to the same amount of metered electricity as urban dwellings at 18%, and almost double the electricity of rural homes, which rests at 10% (CSO 2022).


Perhaps, this is better expressed as every 100 data centre workers consume 1% of the electricity generated in this state, and 1000 data centre workers consume the same amount of electricity as all of our rural households put together.

In 2021, electricity generation produced 10mt of CO2; in 2021, renewables accounted for 35% of electricity produced.

65% of electricity produced in Ireland resulted in 10mt of CO2 being released, where the electricity used by data centres was generated from non-renewables, then data centre demand was responsible for 27% of CO2 generated by the production of electricity in Ireland.

Instead of us vilifying sectors, we must look at the whole story before making up our minds; our agricultural sector produces enough food for 35 million people.

The World Food Program estimates that there are currently 345.2 million people who are food insecure – more than double the 2020 figure; it makes little to no sense to reduce the production of food of the quality that we have consistently produced.

Removing 180,000 dairy cows from production in Ireland is like removing 180,000 electric cars in one country and introducing 1,000,000 old diesel cars that belch black smoke to another country at the same time.

We call on the government parties to support rural Ireland and to remember where they come from and who it represents.

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