NI beef steering group aims to deliver carbon calculations for farmers

Plans are in place within Northern Ireland’s beef sector to develop a concerted response to the challenge of climate change, including carbon calculations.

At the heart of this work, which has been undertaken by members of a recently established Sustainable Beef Project Steering Group, will be the development of a scheme to verify the credentials of cattle produced in Northern Ireland, in the context of the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) application for ‘Irish Grass Fed Beef’.

A separate outworking of the project will be the delivery of carbon footprint calculations for beef producers in Northern Ireland.

Steering group

The steering group comprises representatives from the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU); Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC); Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association (NIMEA); Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA); College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE); and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

The LMC industry development manager, Colin Smith, addressed some of these climate matters during a presentation to the fourth beef sustainability webinar, recently hosted by a wide range of livestock sector stakeholder organisations.

He said: “The initial challenge that confronted the group was that of determining whether Northern Ireland could meet the detailed technical specification proposed by Bord Bia within the ‘Irish Grass Fed Beef’ PGI application that was submitted to the European Commission.

Northern Ireland’s participation within an amended geographic scope of the proposed PGI submission brought two key issues immediately into play.

“First of all, would it be possible to design, develop and publish a Northern Ireland grass fed beef standard that would meet the requirement of the PGI?”

And, secondly, would it be possible to design a verification scheme, again that would meet the requirements of the envisaged grass fed PGI?”

Carbon calculations

As the work progressed, the group said that it became obvious that, with the inclusion of a relatively small number of additional data sets, it would also be possible to establish a base system to gather information required to calculate the carbon footprint of beef enterprises in Northern Ireland.

Smith further explained: “Our plan is to deliver on both of these objectives over the next 12 months.”

As the LMC representative went on to confirm, Northern Ireland’s Animal and Public Health Information System (APHIS) system will play a very important role in the development of both the grass fed beef verification system for Northern Ireland, and the beef carbon footprint calculations.

“The use of individual animal-related data held on APHIS will be critically important in the development of both projects,” he explained.

The success of both initiatives also depends on the gathering of additional information on-farm in a timely manner. And it is in this context that the farm quality assurance scheme will contribute significantly.

“Approximately 12,000 beef and lamb producers in Northern Ireland are now quality assured. Moreover, information gathered in this way is not adding significant added cost to the industry.”

Additional questions in a QA inspection

According to Smith, it should be feasible to include a relatively small number of additional questions within a regular farm quality assurance inspection.

He commented: “This additional information will be central in developing a carbon footprint for the enterprise in question and determining the grass fed status for each individual animal.”

The additional questions that will be asked, courtesy of a bolt-on to the farm quality assurance inspection, will reference a number of new subject areas.

“But the good news is that the amount of crossover in terms of the information required to undertake both the carbon footprint calculation and the determination of an animal’s compliance with the grass fed scheme, is extremely high,” Smith continued.

It was for this reason that the members of the Sustainable Beef Project Steering Group decided to take these two issues forward in tandem,” he continued.

“The grass fed status of each animal will be made available to each producer by way of BovIS [Bovine Information System]. Farmers will also be supplied with the outcome of the carbon footprint calculation.

“With the systems that we have at our disposal in Northern Ireland, we have the opportunity to lead the way in tackling some of the challenges that are coming our way,” Smith concluded.