Climate change: Beef farmers must measure, review and implement

Dawn Meats Group, head of agriculture, Sarah Haire has confirmed that beef farmers must measure, review and implement as they respond to climate change.

She spoke at the last of the four sustainable beef webinars, hosted by the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) and a range of other sectoral stakeholder groups in Northern Ireland.

Haire said: “The time for the beef industry to start actually verifying its sustainability credentials is now. The time for talking is over.

Telling the world that our beef is produced on a sustainable basis will only get us so far down the track.

“Northern Ireland’s beef industry must come forward with real data to verify the claims that it is making, where sustainability is concerned. And that clock is ticking,” she added.

Climate change

Haire explained that climate change is an issue that impacts across society as a whole, not just agriculture.

“The upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow will add to further drive the narrative on these issues,” she said.

According to the Dawn Meats’ representative, the beef industry now has a great opportunity to tell its story.

“But the challenges facing the industry are as great, if not greater,” she said.

Sustainability and its impact on beef production is a not a new subject. Over the past 20 years the issue has raised its head from a number of perspectives.

“These include animal welfare, antibiotic usage, animal feed, GM soya and the debate, which continues regarding the merits of intensive beef management systems relative to more extensive production practices.

But the bottom line remains that of delivering a quality product to the consumer on a consistent basis.”

Climate change and stakeholder involvement

Specifically where climate change is concerned, Haire confirmed that all of the main supermarket groups in the UK had come up with their own targets.

She explained:

The UK government has come up with its own carbon ‘net zero’ target for 2050. However, many of the supermarkets want to reach this target within their own businesses much quicker, with targets of reaching net zero by 2040.”

Haire went on to point out that the Dawn Meats Group is committed to stripping the emotion out of the climate change debate and focusing entirely on the science-based facts, as they are known to be at this moment in time.

She continued: “We have customer specific projects. All the customers that we work with have a real commitment to agriculture. However, these projects are generally small scale.

But we can’t get to where we need to be on our own. This is why industry collaboration is so important moving forward.

“The good news is that this collaborative approach is now gaining momentum. It is very heartening to see competing supply chains coming together with the sole aim of securing a more sustainable beef sector.

“All of this dialogue is great. But action is now needed at grass roots’ level,” she continued.

Beef farmers

In terms of what beef farmers must do now, Sarah Haire focused on a number of key action points, all centred around the interconnected principles of measure, review and implement.

“This is not rocket science,” she commented.

Where information is concerned, there is already a lot of data available to farmers. This includes traceability-related information, calving information plus a range of key performance indicators.”

Where the determination of carbon footprint is concerned, Haire recommended that farmers should consider downloading one of the calculators that are currently available online and try it out.

She continued: “This may not be a perfect fit for each business, nor will it meet the criteria established by government down the line. But it will provide users with a valuable starting point.”

Specific action points highlighted by Haire in the context of beef farmers responding positively to the challenge of climate change include:

  • The attainment of enhanced liveweight gains;
  • Improving animal health standards;
  • Improving maternal traits;
  • Using sexed semen;
  • Including clover in grass swards;
  • Using low emission slurry spreading equipment (LESS);
  • Improving grassland management standards.

“If we don’t measure what we do, we can’t manage it and we can’t demonstrate it,” she concluded.