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2. Verschave et al. BMC Veterinary Research (2014) 10:264.
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are prepared to take legitimate criticism on board we will be unable to
retain the generally positive view of farming held by the Irish public. After
a long and di cult winter, questions were asked as to how fit for purpose
our agricultural model is, given the fact that the country came very close
to a significant fodder shortage. In general, those questions were dealt
with well. The fact was that a very protracted housing period caused by
incessant rainfall, allied to unusually low soil temperatures hindering grass
growth, meant that a shortage of fodder was almost inevitable. It is also
true that a cooperative spirit within the farming community, including all of
the organisations associated with the industry, ensured that our livestock
were fed, at a considerable extra cost it must be said.
There was an abundance of nonsense spoken and written alongside the
legitimate questioning. Some of this nonsense included demands that
the dairy herd be reduced, despite the fact that there are far fewer dairy
cows in the country than were there 40 years ago. The real agenda among
the nonsense peddlers is to use these unusual weather circumstances
to advance a climate change agenda that blames pastoral farming in the
main for damaging the climate and the environment. It appears that Irish
farmers must step to the top of the class and flagellate themselves for their
perceived role in destroying the planet. Nothing could be further from the
truth. Working under the most stringent regulations on Earth, Ireland has
a cattle industry that is managed in an environmentally positive manner.
The fact that if we do not produce beef and milk in Ireland they will be
produced in environmentally vulnerable regions, under lowly regulated
management systems, is refuted by glib comments that suggest that
people across the globe should reduce their intake of animal proteins.
Short of coercion, there is little evidence of that happening any time soon.
If, or when, it does, then will be the time to reassess the level of production
of these valuable and nutritious food sources.
What is not in doubt is the fact that Irish farms are, on average, capable of
growing far more grass than is at present produced. That is the direction
in which we should be concentrating our e orts, not in the negative aim
of reducing output when the country has such vast, as yet barely tapped,
potential to produce more food. The targets set out in Food Wise 2025 are
absolutely achievable. They are not even particularly ambitious. A major
proportion of Irish grassland is still under-utilised. The Teagasc target of
lifting grass production to 10 tonnes of dry matter per hectare can be
readily achieved without recourse to new or untested technologies. The
management systems are already in place. The templates are set not only
in trial work but on some thousands of farms right around the country.
The next step is to replicate that success on as many more farms. Despite
the ignorant commentary that is common in some circles, it is not that
stocking rates are too high on some farms that is the problem. It is that
stocking rates are too low on too many farms.
It has been proved that highly stocked, well-managed farms grow and
utilise far more grass than lowly stocked farms. Instead of reducing output,
as some would suggest, the most appropriate approach for a country with
a temperate climate, high rainfall and a long grass-growing season, is to
grow more grass, turn it into beef and milk and achieve our true potential
as a food-producing country.