Agriculture comes under the spotlight when greenhouse gases (GHG) are mentioned. For Ireland, cattle are deemed to be the worst offenders.
The environmental solution would be to cut cattle numbers, but the Irish solution instead is to breed more sustainable, more profitable animals.
The Beef Data and Genomics scheme aims to do just that.
It aims to breed cows that are more fertile, docile, with more milk, and producing a calf per cow per year.
Increasing the Eurostars of the suckler herd results in more calves/cow/year, and less greenhouse gases per livestock unit.
Benefits of €30/cow/year can be got on top of the scheme payment of some €90/cow/year.
The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) will administer this scheme on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Participating farmers are expected to be fully compliant with BVD requirements, and must undertake six key actions as part of the BDGP.
Farmers must continue to tag and register all calves within 27 days of birth, and provide sire details.
Surveys similar to the 2014 Beef Data Programme (BDP) scheme are required, which include calf quality, incidence of scour and pneumonia.
Cow surveys include milking ability, while docility and culling reasons are surveyed for cows and bulls.
Notebooks for field recording will be provided in 2016.
Genotyping: ICBF selects the animals for genotyping (tissue tag sample) equivalent to 60% of the 2014 reference animals.
This means a farmer with 15 eligible calved animals in 2014 must be able to genotype nine cows, heifers, calves or stock bulls annually.
Replacement strategy: Farmers keeping a stock bull must have in five years from now, a stock bull which was genotyped a four or five star bull on either the terminal or replacement index at the time of purchase.
Most farmers will be changing their bulls by then, for reasons such as bull age, keeping the bull’s daughters, poor docility, or foot problems.
The sooner four or five star bulls are used on the farm, the earlier progress can be made on breeding suitable female replacements.
Farmers using AI will be expected to select 80% four or five-star bulls from June 30, 2016.
Using four or five-star sires equates to more profit at slaughter.
In 2018, 20% of the 2014 reference animals, and 50% in 2019, must be four or five-star on the replacement index at time of purchase, or at genotyping.
ICBF analysis shows some 30% of farms already comply with the 2019 target.
So farmers shouldn’t worry about the star profile of their current bull or suckler herd, as the aim is to improve on the current position going forward, and this is why a six-year scheme is required.
Real progress can be made by farmers committed to stay in suckler farming, who see this as an opportunity to improve their herd over six years.
For farmers who have signed up to this scheme, ICBF will be providing information on animals in the herd which already meet with the scheme requirements.
This will assist farmers to select the most profitable replacements for breeding.
Complete a Carbon Navigator by 2016: this is an online farm management package produced by Bord Bia and Teagasc.
It measures environmental gains that can be made on farm by setting targets in key areas.
For example, the length of grazing season, or spring application of slurry.
An approved advisor is required to complete this at first, which the Department will pay for.
Training must be completed by the end of October, 2016.
It is expected to be a four-hour course, and farmers will be paid €166 to attend.
All aspects of the scheme will be covered.
The Beef Data and Genomics Programme makes for exciting times ahead for suckler farmers, as they are empowered with genomic information to assist in making better informed decisions on improving their own herds.
We will be following it closely.