Teagasc reported stable greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for sheep and tillage farms and a decline in emissions on cattle farms, which helped to offset the increases in dairy farm emissions in 2020 in its National Farm Survey Sustainability Report.
Dairy was described as “the powerhouse” of the industry and it will come as no surprise to anyone that the sector led the way in terms of economics and dominated the report this week.
The gross margin reported for dairy farms (€1,906/ha) was 2.5 times higher than tillage farms which had the second-highest gross margin (€756/ha).
Economics are essential, but it is important to remember that sustainability has three pillars – economics, environment and social.
Dairy appears to have two strong pillars in economics and social
Teagasc’s Trevor Donnellan described sustainability as a three-legged stool – if one leg is broken, the stool falls down.
Dairy appears to have two strong pillars in economics and social and while environmental sustainability is improving there is more work to be done.
The dairy sector’s emissions increased in 2020 and Teagasc reported this to be as a result of a larger average herd size, as the average kilogramme of milk was produced with a lower carbon footprint.
Meanwhile, the positive environmental performance of the tillage sector was impressive and offered much higher income than cattle and sheep farms.
The high economic performance of the dairy sector is welcome
There are cracks and breaks in all sectors and that three-legged stool is wobbly. Poor income, age profile, viability of farms and isolation are all serious problems on cattle and sheep farms, so while emissions can no doubt be reduced on these farms and this may help with some of the economic issues, there needs to be something done to address the social issues which are too often forgotten about.
The high economic performance of the dairy sector is welcome, but other sectors cannot be left behind. Solutions to problems in all sectors are needed.