Desmond Savage, Director and COO of Moonsyst International Ltd. was asked to present to the Joint Houses of the Irish Parliament in March 2022, on the topic of Metrics Matter at Farm level.
The full transcription of his submission and recording of the session are detailed below. The submission was also picked by the national media e.g. https://www.farmersjournal.ie/tds-told-ireland-should-increase-cattle-numbers-687989
Recording: CR2_20220324 Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine | Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action | media.heanet.ie (31min – 115mins)
March 24th 2022
Thank you for the opportunity to address this joint committee on the subject of ‘exploring technologies and opportunities that may exist in the effort to reduce emissions in the agriculture sector.’ For the purpose of this submission, I shall focus on Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from cattle.
The principle points I would like to discuss today are:
The importance of choosing the right metric(s) in advance of making decisions on the size of the national herd
Technology has a key role to play in sustainable agriculture and its adoption should be incentivised
My name is Desmond Savage and I’m the co-founder and chairman of Moonsyst International Ltd, an Irish company that was formed in partnership with Moonsyst Hungary in November 2020.
For more info see: https://moonsyst.com/home
Moonsyst International develops Internet of Things (IoT) Cattle Monitoring solutions, with particular focus on Animal Health and Sustainability. The company is supported by The Cork North & West Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and in September 2021 received the IFAC & Enterprise Ireland best newcomer award at the Ploughing Championships Innovation Arena
For more info see: https://www.ifac.ie/news-insights/news/moonsyst-the-2021-winner-of-the-ifac-best-newcomer-award
Prior to getting involved in the Agtech sector, I spent over 20 years’ working in manufacturing as a process improvement engineer and consultant, during which time I worked on teams deploying multi-million-euro manufacturing IT systems into some of the world’s largest companies. A lesson I learnt on my first job and carried through on every other assignment was, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
Metrics really matter, once they are the right metrics! It is my opinion, rather than looking at the size of the national herd or national biogenic reductions, better metrics are required before decisions or legislations are enacted on.
As part of the Draft Agri-Food Strategy 2030, I feel Ireland should focus on efficiencies in producing high quality animal protein i.e. milk and meat, rather than committing to a national biogenic methane reduction or reducing the size of the national herd. There is also no mention on how biogenic methane can cost effectively be measured and I would be deeply concerned if the right metrics are not available, wrong decisions will be made.
Reference to Agri-Food Strategy 2030: https://www.gov.ie/en/consultation/bd894-public-consultation-on-the-environmental-assessment-of-the-draft-agri-food-strategy-to-2030
The global demand for milk and beef is expected to grow constantly for a least another 30 years, as more people around the world enter middle class and seek these high quality animal proteins in their diets.
See reference: https://www.farmersjournal.ie/sustained-growth-in-demand-for-meat-and-dairy-to-2031-667682
Ireland has one of the most natural and best systems for producing bovine milk and meat in the world. If we do not serve the increasing global demand, other countries will, where animal welfare and sustainability lags Ireland’s record; therefore, having a global net negative impact on sustainability and the global environment. In accordance to the Paris Climate Agreement, Article 2.1 of the Agreement mentions the importance of protecting food production, while reducing emissions. I strongly feel Ireland is best positioned to do this, by being a world leader on sustainable bovine meat and dairy production, through utilising our natural advantages, in particular our grass-fed system. This does not equate to reducing cattle numbers in Ireland, but arguably means Ireland should potentially increase its production of bovine dairy and meat, which would have a net benefit on global emissions. For this reason, I think the current metrics under consideration i.e. biogenic methene reduction or national herd size reductions are wrong.
Focus should be placed on optimising animal efficiencies in the production of dairy and meat. There is long list of factors that impact on these efficiencies, including genetics, breed, health, feed, seasonality, age, lactation cycle, sward types, use of feed additives, environmental, herdsmanship, supply chain and so forth.. For example, cattle that eructate (i.e. belch) excessively, are cattle that have poor feed conversion, health issues and produce excessive GHG emissions. A healthy rumen will equal a healthy cow and less GHG emissions.
See reference: Methane reduction linked to better on-farm profitability - Agriland.ie
Cattle, like cars can vary extensively, however not all cars are treated equally when it comes to GHG’s. A ten-year-old 4 litre car will pay higher road taxes and fuel taxes, than a 1 litre new car, and rightly so! They both will do the same job, getting you from A – B, but at different impacts on the environment. Great advancements are being made in this industry to reduce GHG’s, because each car can be measured for it impact on the environment and incentives applied to improve. The same cannot be said for the proposed metrics associated to the national herd, even though emissions from cattle can also vary extensively. More attention needs to be placed on measuring and establishing the correct metrics before decisions are made at a national level.
When cattle’s rumen health is good, this will help farmers maximise feed conversions and minimise the amount of GHG’s produced by each animal. This has the potential to improve protein conversion yields in both meat and milk, which in turn is a further gain for the farmer, without negatively impacting the environment. With such information to hand, Governments and/or large corporate entities e.g. food retailers, could incentivize progressive farmers to produce more sustainably e.g. by rewarding farmers for investments in genetics, new swards and/or methane blocking feed additives.
Moonsyst is working on providing a cost-effective method of monitoring the rumen of cattle real-time. With this information to hand, farmers can better understand the health of their animals and optimise the feed conversion rates, which in turn will minimise the biogenic emissions, helping the environment. As I mentioned at the beginning, if you can't measure it, you can't improve it!
At present there is no direct financial incentives to reward beef and dairy farmers who manage low biogenic emitting herds. Incentives should be considered to drive this progressive behaviour, for example, make technologies that are deemed enabling more sustainable farming VAT exempt or classified as a Capital Expenditure. From discussions with farmers, they all want to do the right thing for the environment as it is crucial for their business going forward, but they are not being incentivised sufficiently. Technology, as called out in the Draft Agri-Food Strategy 2030, does have a key role to play in the coming years and any incentives that can be put in-place to expedite the adoption of these technologies, has to be a good thing.
In summary, I would ask this committee to consider my 2 principle points presented today i.e.
Before decisions are made on Biogenic Emissions, ensure the right metrics are put in-place that will drive sustainability and have a net positive benefit on Global Climate Change.
Put in place simple incentives to encourage Irish farmers to adopt technologies that will enable them to become more sustainable.
I would like to thank all the committee members for again allowing me the time and opportunity to express my views on this important matter for the Irish Farming Industry, Ireland and the World.
Is mise le meas,