Sustainability in our grass-based livestock systems

Thursday 29.08.2019 , News

The recent reseeding demo on the farm of Brian and Pat Hogan addressed the matter of Sustainable Agriculture.

Professor Gary Lanigan of Teagasc and Germinal’s Jim Gibbons discussed how to maintain a sustainable grass-based production system into the future, which not only returns a profit to the farm but also reduces the environmental impact from farming.

Professor Lanigan briefed the attendees on the challenges now facing livestock farmers, outlining the problems in terms of greenhouse gases and what the potential farm solutions are.

According to Professor Lanigan, as Ireland has committed to significantly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, the issue has been further exacerbated by our expanding dairy herd.

As an industry, we need to take steps to improving water quality and reducing ammonia emissions and greenhouse gases. Nitrogen management in particular will be critical in achieving this and following the below actions could make a significant difference.    

Soil pH

More than 60% of our grassland is at a less than optimum pH. By applying lime where it is required, we can increase the pH and decrease greenhouse gas emissions, especially for the most potent gases such as nitrous oxide and ammonia.

Fertiliser use

Switching from Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) and straight urea to protected urea will help reduce ammonia emissions and greenhouse gases.

Slurry application

To avoid losses and volatilization, do not spread slurry at hot temperatures or on bright sunny days. Early season spreading is generally less harmful than the application during the summer. By use trailing shoe or trailing hose applicators on slurry spreaders, this reduces emissions and leads to a more efficient use of the nutrients in the slurry.


It is recommended that we use more clovers in our swards as this will fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil and make it available to the grass; reducing our need for bagged nitrogen with its associated carbon footprint. This nitrogen is also available in a form that is less conducive to generating emissions of greenhouse gases.

Quality grass varieties

The use of high quality grass varieties will lead to more efficient protein usage by livestock; reducing nitrogen loss to the environment, thus improving our emissions profile.

These suggested measures could be easily implemented at no great extra cost to existing farming systems, with the added benefits of cleaner farming and increased productivity.