A brighter shade of green for Irish farming
INNOVATION PROFILE: TEAGASCSustainability will be one of the main drivers of growth in Irish agriculture
Teagasc has launched a major initiative to help Irish farmers deliver on the ambitious growth plans for the sector laid out in the Government-supported Food Harvest 2020 strategy for the sector.
Ireland’s climate and environment position it to contribute to the growing global demand for food – projected to rise by 70 per cent by 2050, and the strategy sets ambitious growth targets for food exports, and a well-publicised target of 50 per cent growth in the volume of milk production.
But how can we ensure that our environment becomes the engine of agricultural growth? In other words: can growth be green? This is where Teagasc comes in.
“Sustainability is an old concept that is getting a makeover,” says Dr Rogier Schulte, Teagasc’s leader of translational research on sustainable food production. “It is no longer associated with ‘niche-markets’ only. Sustainability now features prominently in the marketing strategies of most major food companies and retailers.”
The challenge is that sustainability means different things to different people. When it comes to Irish agriculture, Teagasc uses a straight forward definition of sustainability: an approach to farming that can be sustained into the foreseeable future. In other words: a way of farming that will be even more efficient and productive in 10 or 20 years time as it is today; and that will maintain and shape our countryside as a high quality place in which to work.
Sustainability includes farm economics, social equity, animal welfare and the environment. Economic sustainability means that there is a future in farming. Social sustainability means that the benefits of economic sustainability are shared among all of those who contribute to it.
Animal welfare is a well-established concept in Irish agriculture, not only in terms of ethics, but also in relation to animal productivity. Environmental sustainability means careful and efficient use of natural resources such as water, soil and nutrients; thereby minimising the negative side-effects of farming on the environment.
Sustainability is at the heart of the Food Harvest 2020 strategy which considers it to be one of the main drivers of growth, as captured in its subtitle: “Act smart, think green, achieve growth”.
With retailers responding to demands for sustainable food, Irish agriculture is in a strong position to build on its reputation for “green produce”. After all, Irish livestock production has very good “green credentials”. Irish livestock graze outdoors for most of the year and irrigation is almost unheard of. The Irish countryside still supports a wide variety of biodiversity, the quality of our inland waters is relatively high compared to many of our European neighbours and the carbon footprint of Irish milk and meat is among the lowest in the world.
Some of Food Harvest 2020’s targets have led to public confusion. Concerns have been raised that it will lead to a 50 per cent increase in animal numbers, slurry production and fertiliser use. This will not be the case, according to Teagasc head of management services Dr Lance O’Brien.