Unsaturated fats for cows a proven way to cut carbon emissions

Teagasc gives outline of how best to deal with biggest greenhouse gas source in Ireland

Feeding cows unsaturated fats is one climate-friendly action proposed for Irish farmers. File photograph: Getty Images

Feeding cows unsaturated fats is one climate-friendly action proposed for Irish farmers. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Feeding cows unsaturated fats and a return to growing sugar beet in Ireland to generate bioethanol are among the climate-friendly actions proposed for Irish farmers.

They are among 27 measures proven to reduce carbon emissions from agriculture spelt out by Teagasc in an unprecedented outline of how best to deal with the single biggest source of greenhouse gases occurring in Ireland.

The broad range of actions, if adopted, would significantly change Irish farming, especially in the most important sectors; dairying and beef.

It proposes improving the genetic mix in beef cattle and dairy cows, which not only results in reduced carbon emissions but improves efficiency from a cost perspective, and big changes in the application of fertilisers – with an emphasis on using less nitrogen in soils.

Allied to this are changes to manure/slurry management and extending the grazing season, along with more extensive use of clover in pasture swards.

Biomass crops

There is much emphasis on replacing fossil fuels through farming including using biomass crops for heat and electricity production, and adoption of anaerobic digestors to digest slurry and grass for the production of gas which can be used in combined heat and power units – and the generation of biomethane from the same sources which can be injected into the natural gas grid.

Teagasc also outlines how producing livestock with improved animal health protocols leads to less emissions.

What is in Ireland’s favour is global research by UN Food and Agriculture Organisation who shows “the carbon footprint of milk is lowest in ‘temperate grass-based systems’, such as those that are commonplace in Ireland”.

Similarly, Irish farmers now apply 25 per cent less nitrogen per kilogram of food produced since 1990 through more efficient production methods and how fertilisers are used, Teagasc notes.

It warns, however, that increases in global population and wealth are predicted to result in a huge increase in dairy and beef demand up 2050, and may result in “carbon leakage”, whereby a deficit is filled by countries with a much larger carbon footprint.