2013-06-05 facebooktwitterrss
How Big Is Your Carbon Footprint?

Global warming is an issue which often makes the news headlines. But few farmers realise that in Northern Ireland, agriculture contributes approximately 22% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The vast majority of these emissions (85%) are the result of methane production by ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, goats, and deer), a by-product of fibre digestion.

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photo © Farm-Images

In 2011 the Stormont Executive set targets for a 25% reduction in Northern Ireland’s GHG emissions by 2025 (based on 1990 levels). This target poses a significant challenge to the NI agriculture industry in general, and the sheep sector in particular, since replacing grass with concentrates is not viable in the current economic climate. However all is not lost!

Research jointly funded by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and AgriSearch and undertaken by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Hillsborough, has developed a carbon calculator which will shortly enable sheep producers in NI to measure their carbon footprint. This calculator will also present a series of ‘what if’ scenarios and quantify their impact on the carbon footprint.

The good news is that a flock’s carbon footprint is closely related to the level of performance and technical efficiency. i.e. better flock performance equals higher profits plus a smaller carbon footprint.

Table 1 provides an illustration for a lowland flock. Small improvements in ewe fertility, replacement rate and lamb growth performance offers the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of lamb meat by up to 20%. Further progress can also be made by reducing inputs of nitrogen fertilizer and concentrate feedstuffs and making better use of grazed grass.

How these improvements in performance can be achieved will be the key focus of the AFBI and AgriSearch stand at Sheep NI 2013 in Ballymena Mart on Mon, July 1.

Table 1. Impact of production efficiency on the carbon footprint of lamb meat

Flock performance Carbon footprint (kg CO2-equivalents per kg lamb meat)
200 ewes
1.4 lambs reared/ewe
Lambs slaughtered at 250 days old
25% replacement rate
+0.2 lambs reared/ewe 24.0 (-13%)
-30 days at slaughter 26.9 (-3%)
-5% replacement rate 26.1 (-6%)
All of the above 22.1 (-20%)


Related Links
link Shearing top of the Timetable for Students
link Better Goat Welfare and No Kidding
link Composite Sheep Showing Promise for NI Hill Farmers
link Working Dogs

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