UpFront JANUARY 2020 www.irishfarmersmonthly.com Population and arable land Dairy beef – theory and practice As the late Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald was reputed to have said in another context: “I know it works in practice, but does it work in theory?”, the ability to deliver good physical performance from dairy bred beef calves is well proven. What is not as clear from the ongoing research into dairy beef genetics being conducted by ABP in collaboration with Teagasc and ICBF is whether the exercise makes money for the producer. The trial farm is being remunerated by the beef processor for its work but at current beef prices there is no margin in the system. But then, at current prices there is no decent margin in any beef system. The calves going through the project are crossbred Friesian/Hereford and Friesian/Angus. A major focus of the research is in identifying the potential within and between breeds to reduce enteric methane emissions. Results show the potential for up to 17 per cent reductions within breeds and even greater between breeds. Specific farming systems are identified as having the potential to reduce enteric methane production by up to 36 per cent. Reducing the slaughter age can deliver even greater reductions without compromising productivity. Feed intake data from the ICBF unit at Tully was also used in the research. Earlier slaughter allied to superior feed intake conversion make for greater production efficiency. The findings on the ABP-sponsored research farm have been endorsed by Teagasc and ICBF. These research findings have marketing potential, as beef buyers and consumers become ever more environmentally conscious in their purchases. The ‘buts’ come when profit per hectare or per animal are sought. That will need a better price for beef than was available in the first week in December no matter what breed efficiencies are involved. 6 Dr. Cara Augustenburg, a speaker at the ITLUS (Irish Tillage and Land Use Society) 50th anniversary Winter Conference in December made the alarming statement that while the population of planet Earth has nearly doubled since 1960, the amount of arable land available to feed us has halved. The only thing stopping mass starvation has been the ability of farmers to exponentially increase food production from a diminishing land base. Agricultural research continues to deliver the means to improve crop and livestock production to such an extent that the Earth’s population is, on average, better fed than ever before to the extent that obesity is now the biggest health challenge in the western world. At the same conference, economist Colm McCarthy gave the lie to the myth that rural Ireland is in decline. While he acknowledged that there are localised instances of depopulation, he pointed out that the population of Ireland, outside of the greater Dublin area is growing, albeit at a far slower rate than the counties of Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. Those latter counties are now well within the commuter belt from where a considerable proportion of the greater Dublin workforce depart at ungodly times of the morning to spend several hours in cars, buses or trains going to and coming from work. Which confirms the fact that while there are real and substantial problems facing the farming population, especially income issues, there are benefits from living beside your place of work. To illustrate his point about population growth in counties where many of us believe population is in decline, Colm used CSO figures to show that the counties of Mayo, Longford and Leitrim have all substantially increased in population over the past quarter century. In another clarification of pub talk, the UCD-based economist confirmed the loss of 1,000 pubs around Ireland over the past decade. He added, however, that there are 33 derelict pubs in central Dublin, with comparable closures in other urban centres including Cork and Limerick. It’s not only in rural Ireland that the pubs and post offices are closing. The difference is that there are far fewer business or socialising options in rural Ireland.