COP21 recently agreed targets to keep global warming below 2 degrees and the EU has formally set a 2030 target of reducing emissions by 40%, with member state targets not yet agreed. Given the proportion of Irish emissions related to agriculture, as an industry we can expect further challenge as part of the debate on emissions mitigation, and rightly so.
Due to mega trends of population growth and climate change, countries will have to examine ways of producing foods that are climate resilient, nutrient dense and which optimise the use of renewable resources. Grass-based Irish livestock production will play a significant role in providing a robust and sustainable food production model for consumers.
Agriculture accounts for approximately 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions, allowing for carbon sequestration and accounting for land use change. Energy at 75% accounts for most of the remainder, so it is important that we place agricultural emissions in proper context, in any climate change debate.
Any balanced examination should recognise that beef farming provides significant economic benefits to rural Ireland with Dawn Meats alone spending more than €450m in local communities annually. Many consumers choose beef as a source of high-quality protein, which is appetite-sating and helps with weight control when consumed as part of a healthy balanced diet. It provides many important nutrients such as iron, zinc, potassium and B vitamins with grass fed beef having substantially greater nutrient levels of omega 3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid. The fact that ruminants convert grass into human edible protein is fundamental to food security and as highlighted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 70% of the world’s agriculture area is covered by grass. In Ireland this figure is 80% with Europe at 40%.
It is regularly reported that the conversion of feed intake to produce beef is not the most efficient. The relevance of this point must be questioned, given that pasture based livestock, consume renewable grass resources that otherwise would go unexploited. In addition grasslands act as a carbon sink and livestock farming can help reverse carbon emissions through rotational grazing and help offset the natural emissions produced by livestock grazing these same pastures.
In the EU the average CO2 output per kilogram of beef is 22.1kg, whereas in Ireland it is 14% lower. Simply swapping an Irish cow for one produced somewhere else in Europe will actually increase the overall global carbon footprint for the same volume of beef production. So should Irish climate targets propose pushing beef production to Europe or other parts of the world which are more reliant on cereals and soybeans, this will place additional pressure on food supply chains.
Industry is already making significant progress in carbon efficiency and Dawn Meats are playing their part as one of the first members of Origin Green and sponsor of Bord Bia’s Origin Green Program; the world’s leading sustainability program in food production. Dawn’s 2020 targets of reducing water and energy intensity by 40% and emissions intensity by 50% are in excess of national and EU targets.
Dawn Meats have also pioneered and supported other initiatives such as the Better Farm Programme, which promotes profitable and sustainable beef production through improving technical efficiency within the farm gate. Dawn Meats have also established a suckler-beef farm at Newford, Co. Galway designed to promote innovative practices that enhance on-farm sustainability.
During the period 2008 – 2014 Dawn Meats also facilitated an independent study on Irish and British farms, which demonstrated that an average reduction of 23% in carbon emissions could be achieved by measuring, managing and tracking farm inputs. Significant environmental improvements are being made on livestock farms and a recent report from Carnegie Mellon University in the USA found that because of the lower calorie density of fruit and vegetables, in the USA a lower meat diet resulted in both a higher water and energy footprint.
The issue of carbon emissions must be considered in a holistic context, leveraging an abundant national grass resource, considering efficiency, economics & food security. It is clear that the Irish livestock sector can play an integral part of the local and global solution to both climate change and food security. For this reason Dawn Meats were delighted to host the first annual Great Agri-Food Debate in UCD last week with McDonald’s and Bord Bia, which opened the floor to the next generation of agri-food leaders to share their thoughts on one of the most important issues of our generation.
Over 200 students and representatives of the Irish agri-food industry took to the UCD Garret Fitzgerald Debating Chamber on 10th March in the first annual Great Agri-Food Debate to consider the motion: “Ruminant Livestock Farming will Help Save the Planet.”
The debate saw students from UCD’s School of Agriculture and Food Science vigorously debate issues such as the long-term importance of agri-food production to the Irish economy; livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions; the relative efficiencies of the Irish production system, and what constitutes sustainable levels of meat consumption worldwide into the future.
Moderator for the night was Justin McCarthy, Editor of the Irish Farmers Journal and the judging panel was made up of Niall Browne, CEO, Dawn Meats; Adrian Crean, Managing Director, McDonald’s Ireland and Aidan Cotter, CEO Bord Bia. Dawn Meats and McDonald’s Ireland co-sponsored the event in recognition of the importance of sustainable sourcing and sustainable farming.
Commenting Niall Browne, CEO said;
“The impact of our industry on the environment is something we’ve long been conscious of and we’ve taken a lot of steps to mitigate this impact over the last 10 years. The Irish grass-based system is one of the most carbon efficient in the world from an environmental perspective. Therefore we need to be pragmatic about the role that Ireland plays in relation to global food security and be unafraid of broadening the discussion by showcasing the natural advantages of Irish beef production.
The debate this evening gave us an opportunity to consider different sides of this contentious issue, and importantly, to provide a forum for the views and vision of the next generation of agri-food leaders. Our activities today will shape the industry that they inherit, and it is important that they are active stakeholders from the very beginning.”
Commenting Adrian Crean, MD McDonald’s Ireland said;
“McDonald’s aims to begin purchasing verified sustainable beef by 2016 and the company has been working towards this ambitious goal for over ten years through the McDonald’s Agricultural Assistance programme, Flagship Farms and a range of complimentary initiatives taking place on a country level.
Not only is McDonald’s a proud supporter of Irish agriculture, purchasing 40,000 tonnes annually, but we’re also doing our bit to support sustainable farm practices. Just last month, McDonald’s UK released details of one of the largest ever independent carbon studies which was based on more than 1,300 assessments on UK and Irish beef farms. It identified specific ways that we can help farmers to significantly reduce their carbon footprint while also identifying cost savings – a win-win for both the farmer and the environment. Investment in research like this will have a very positive impact on future decisions in the agri-food space.”
Commenting Aidan Cotter, CEO, Bord Bia said;
The agri-food industry is hugely important to the Irish economy, and accounts for almost one in ten jobs. Ireland is the largest net exporter of beef in the Northern Hemisphere with over 90% of beef output exported, comprising over half a million tonnes of beef in 2015 with a value of almost €2.3bn.
Dawn Meats were delighted to sponsor the “Beefing Up YDP” senior conference for the second consecutive year. The two day event which was organised by the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society’s Youth Development Programme took place at Nether Pitlochie Farm, Gateside, Perthshire on 20th-21st of February.
The event covered a range of speakers including; George Brown of Dawn Meats who discussed cattle grading and market specifications; Alistair Morton of Galloway McLeod, who spoke about a range of dietary requirements for suckler cow, store, finishing and show cattle diets; vet Andy Crozier who provided a practical guide to animal health across various stages of the production cycle and Barbara Webster of Breedplan who gave a seminar on understanding EBV’s. The Sunday morning activities included a public speaking workshop and a ring craft and judging etiquette discussion group from freelance stockman Andrew Hughes.
George Brown of Dawn Meats told YDP participants “Over the last four years Scottish carcass weights have increased by 8% (28kgs). Trends indicate the trade requires slightly lighter primal cuts to meet consumer requirements. Cattle breeders need to use easier fleshing bulls to reduce finishing time, producing lighter weights of carcasses to align with evolving consumer preferences.”
Commenting on the weekend’s conference, YDP co-ordinator Gayle Bersey said: “This is a small conference for young, beef cattle enthusiasts and acts as an additional educational arm to the ever growing programme the YDP puts on throughout the year. All of the youngsters engaged with the speakers and it was fantastic to witness healthy debates from all viewpoints of the sector. These delegates are a credit to the breed and the industry and will no doubt have great careers ahead of them.”
A group of 24 participants on Dawn Meats Graduate Trainee Scheme have this week successfully completed a specially designed and delivered management programme at UCD. The program, which is an industry first, was custom designed and delivered by Agri-Food Advanced Professional Development (Agri-Food APD) a collaboration between UCD, UCC and Teagasc, which has nearly a decade of experience in delivering postgraduate training to the agri-food sector.
This programme builds on Dawn Meat’s strong record of investing in graduate management training. Dawn Meats has run in-house young manager training courses for over 15 years, and has also worked closely with the Irish Management Institute to deliver best-in-class training for its next generation of managers.
Speaking on behalf of Agri-Food APD Professor Dolores O'Riordan said:
"We were delighted with the opportunity to work in close collaboration with Dawn Meats, to design and deliver a bespoke programme to further develop the skill set of graduates. The participants were selected from a range of business areas within the company and their positive feedback on the programme was very encouraging. We look forward to working with Dawn Meats in the future to deliver graduate programmes designed to develop the future leaders of the business".
Dawn Meat’s Group HR Manager (Ire) Larry Keena coordinated the training along with Julie Dowsett Manager of the Agri-Food APD programme at UCD.
The 20 day face-to-face training was held over 10 months and covered elements of supply chain management, traceability, sustainability and food safety. Graduates were developed in areas of leadership, management, communication, innovation and lean business principles. The hope is that this is the beginning of collaborative training between academia and the food industry to up skill and develop graduates in this rapidly changing sector.
Dawn Meat’s Group HR Manager (Ire) Larry Keena commented:
“We place a lot of emphasis on hiring high quality graduates and ensuring they get the best of training when they come to Dawn Meats. Dawn has a long tradition of providing management training to its young managers, and this programme is an excellent collaboration between academia and industry to ensure attendees get a strong grounding in relevant leadership and management skills. It has already proven to be very popular with the participants and the skills they have learned are already becoming evident.”
To find out more about Dawn’s graduate trainee visit http://www.dawnmeats.com/index.php/careers-at-dawn
Following the success of last year’s event, The Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society’s industry leading Youth Development Programme (YDP) has announced plans for a two-day conference for 18-24-year-old beef enthusiasts to further their academic and practical skill set.
The YDP Senior Conference, which for the second year running is being sponsored by Dawn Meats, will take place on the 20th and 21st February at Pat Lambert’s commercial beef unit, Pitlochie Farm, Gateside KY14 7SQ on the Saturday morning, where delegates will have the chance of a tour round the commercial beef enterprise.
The second part of the conference will take in a change of location to the Station Hotel, Perth, on Saturday afternoon for the conference activities.
The event will cover a range of speakers starting with George Brown of Dawn Meats who will be discussing topics such as cattle grading and market specifications; Alistair Crozier of Parkside Vets, who will be discussing a range of practical veterinary advice topics, followed by Breedplan’s Barbara Webster who will be giving a seminar on understanding EBV’s. The after dinner speaker will be David Ismail of the Fordel Aberdeen-Angus herd.
The Sunday morning activities will include a public speaking workshop and a ring craft and judging etiquette discussion group from William Haire and Andrew Hughes.
YDP co-ordinator Gayle Bersey says: “The YDP goes from strength to strength every year with more workshops, excellent weekend final facilities and an amazing array of talent from the participants, but the senior conference brings another dimension to the programme’s activities, with a mixture of classroom and practical activities.”
Representing sponsors Dawn Meats, Mark Allan says; “Dawn Meats are pleased to support the Aberdeen-Angus YDP Senior Conference again this year, after a very successful event in Devon in 2015. The YDP brings together passionate and enthusiastic young beef producers from across the UK and our support for this event shows our commitment to encouraging and educating the future of our industry.”
To mark World Wetland Day on Tuesday 2nd February, Dawn Meats and Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) announced the start of a study on the health and progress of the integrated constructed wetland at its Carroll's Cross facility in Co. Waterford.
Four students from WIT will carry out this assessment in the coming months, and the results will be available in the autumn.
World Wetland Day aims to highlight the importance of wetlands, and the role they play in providing natural sponges against flooding, hosting a huge variety of life, and storing carbon dioxide to regulate climate change.
3 years ago Dawn Meats installed a 7 acre integrated wetland and Eco-park at the facility. This not only reduced carbon emissions by avoiding the need to mechanically treat wastewater but provided an opportunity to enhance biodiversity at the site. Dawn and WIT carried out an initial survey of the wetland in March 2014 and they are now commencing a study to assess how the health of the eco-system has progressed over the last two years.
Tony Woodcock from WIT commented: “It is great for our students to have the opportunity to work with Dawn Meats on a live project. At WIT we have a particular interest in bio-diversity and will continue to follow progress on this site.”
Richard Clinton Group Commercial Director from Dawn Meats added: “We are delighted to once again be working with WIT. Dawn Meats is committed to working together with the local community in supporting the environment and this cooperation continues to grow in effectiveness and importance.”