It’s hard to know what we should make of Donald Trump’s election to the White House. One positive development that might come out of it all is his commitment to reverse the decision of the United States’ government to support the COP 21 agreement on global warming. That deal was signed-off in Paris at the end of 2015.
Irrespective of the claims made by scientists concerning our ability to secure future greenhouse gas emission targets here in Northern Ireland, one fundamental fact remains unchallenged. And it’s this: grass-based agriculture will always remain inherently inefficient from a carbon footprint perspective.
Let me fire out a couple of examples. It is possible to finish beef cattle at 15 months, if they are fed large amounts of cereal and other concentrates: the equivalent time period for cattle fed grass-based diets is closer to 30 months.
Similarly, it is possible to double the milk output of cows fed large quantities of meals in sheds, when compared with their counterparts that are put out into a grass field directly after calving in the month of February.
The last couple years have seen a significant number of media profiles given to scientists who espouse the view that grassland farming is inherently inefficient.
One of the most obvious ways of looking at this is to consider the time required to take a meat producing animal through to point of slaughter. The longer this process takes, the more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases the animals concerned will push out into the atmosphere.
But this is only one side of the story. The reality is that every consumer in the world knows that producing milk beef and lamb from grazed grass is the most ‘natural’ way of farming dairy cows, cattle and sheep.
Hence my shock at the total acquiescence demonstrated by the UK in signing up for COP 21 without flagging up the importance of grazed grass to the economy of Northern Ireland and the totally natural way our farmers go about their business.
Let’s be clear about this: keeping a suckler cow to produce one calf a year on a Tyrone hill farm and for her progeny to be eventually finished on a Co Down finishing unit probably breaks every ‘global warming’ principle in the book
But it is the most appropriate way that one could imagine of producing beef, using management techniques that are totally in sync with Northern Ireland’s natural environment. So if Trump, at least, forces a review of COP 21, this could give farm leaders in this part of the world with a second opportunity to espouse the real value of grass based agriculture.