Working to improve the sustainability of the beef and sheep sectors will be a priority for the Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC) throughout 2021.
But what does the term sustainability really mean?
According to LMC chief executive Ian Stevenson, this is an issue that gets to the very heart of what livestock production is all about; from the farmer right through to the final consumer.
“Many people think of sustainability in an environmental context only. And, yes, this is important. But it is only one of the many dimensions within which sustainability must be considered," Stevenson told AgriLand.
“All roads must lead to the development of productive and profitable farming systems that deliver a viable and long term future for the producers involved."
Stevenson pointed out that there is a necessity to communicate the sustainability message well.
"There is also a very strong requirement to communicate effectively with consumers, telling them about the tremendous work that is already underway in delivering a sustainable future for cattle and sheep production in Northern Ireland.
As an industry, we must make it totally clear that ruminant production should not be singled out as a key part of the problem where global warming is concerned; rather it is part of the solution.
“It is wrong that beef and lamb consumption is being linked in the public eye with the excessive production of greenhouse gases [GHG] when, in reality, grassland farming is one of the main forms of agricultural land use that actively sequesters carbon.”
Ian Stevenson firmly believes that Northern Ireland’s beef and lamb sectors can play an active part in getting the UK to a net zero carbon position by 2050.
“But full recognition must be taken of the land use options that are available to local farmers," he said.
Grassland accounts for 95% of the area farmed in Northern Ireland. Making best use of this resource will require a continuous reliance on cattle and sheep production systems.
“Driving efficiency within both sectors will be vitally important as we look to the future.
“A tremendous amount of work has already been done in this regard. Initial research work has led to the roll out of improved management systems that are already delivering improved efficiency levels and a reduced carbon footprint at farm level," he added.
He said that one example of this is the development of low emission slurry spreading systems [LESS].
The use of dribble bar and trailing shoe systems is allowing livestock farmers to make better use of slurry as a fertiliser, while at the same time reducing the volumes of greenhouse gases [GHG] and ammonia emitted to the atmosphere.
"The good news is that we can build on these systems and other emerging technologies."
Three areas of sustainability
The year ahead will see LMC focusing on three specific aspects of sustainability, where beef and sheep production are concerned.
The three aspects are as follows:
- Improving animal health and productivity;
- Quantifying the use of grazed grass in livestock diets;
- Actively communicating the steps that both sectors are taking to deliver improved sustainability for both farmers and society as a whole.
“Hopefully, the coming months will see farming and food move beyond the current challenges of [UK] exit and Covid-19. This will see the importance of sustainability within our food production chains rise in prominence across society as a whole," Stevenson added.
“LMC will be playing a central role in communicating the tremendous job that beef and sheep supply chains across Northern Ireland are doing to make the attainment of more sustainable farming and food systems a reality for the benefit of everyone.”