Kinvara Community Centre, Kinvara, Co.Galway
This session will consist of two farmer-led panel discussions involving eight Farming for Nature Ambassador Farmers. The first theme will focus on 'Diversity in Dairying – Different Approaches to Milk Production and Sales'. The second theme is 'Growing Low-Input, Nutrient Dense food – Some Innovative Approaches'. These interactive sessions will include an overview from each panelist followed by a Q&A session from the audience.
Numbers are limited and pre-booking is essential.
Diversity in Dairying – Different Approaches to Milk Production and Sales
John McHugh has a 230-acre organic dairy farm in Co.Laois. He moved away from being an intensive dairy farmer in 2015 when he realised that he needed to create a sustainable and resilient lifestyle that his children could carry on. Since 2015, he has sown diverse pastures, practises holistic grazing that allows pastures to flower and seed enabling some natural succession to take place and bringing about huge jumps in insect populations. He has embraced the principles of Permaculture, converting pastures to agroforestry and lining cow access roadways with fruit and nut trees. Pigs were introduced to the farm as another means of promoting diversity, helping to break the dominance of perennial rye grass and create opportunities for other plants. Oats are sown to provide the straw and grain requirements and the surplus is sold to Flahavans for organic porridge. More information and a short film on John’s farm here.
Mimi and Owen Crawford operate Crawford’s Farm. Theirs is a small traditional Irish working farm, comprising of twenty-eight acres in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary. It is certified organic where they milk about 10-12 cows, keep 15-16 pigs a year, roughly 1000 broilers and 30-40 ducks. It is a very holistic approach of mixed stock and they believe in diversity in income streams, markets and retailers. The primary focus on the farm is the micro-dairy involving the on-site production of raw cream, raw butter and raw buttermilk. They believe farming should be diverse as nature. They feel their consumers like buying into the whole process, the story of the farm and they are completely transparent in delivering this. “We believe Ireland has the opportunity to produce good clean food and we want to be part of that and help others realise that opportunity as well”. More information on the Crawfords’ farm here.
Thomas Stack is a dairy farmer from Co. Limerick. Having taken over the family farm in 2012 and farming conventionally for a few years, he decided something had to change. He embarked on an ambitious journey to transform his farm into a system that is resilient to environmental and financial shocks. Thomas transitioned to organic farming in 2018 and since then he has adopted the Korean Natural Farming method. This regenerative approach uses indigenous microorganisms (IMO) to create fertile soils that produce a high output without the use of synthetic fertilizer, herbicides or pesticides. Thomas milks 60 dairy cows on virtually no external inputs. His cows are entirely grass-fed and he produces high quality organic milk. He creates his own nutritional supplements for his animals using only natural inputs and processes. “I use the land and nature to produce all my inputs on the farm and to enhance the soil biology”. More information on Tom’s farm here
Gearoid Maher farms 80 hectares in Co. Limerick. He has a dairy herd of purebred friesians, milking 80 cows in total. He feeds locally grown sugar beet to the cows over winter, this has halved the amount of concentrates fed on the farm. The land is a heavy clay type and requires careful management. Gearoid carries out regular soil tests to determine what specific nutrients are required in each field and at what exact quantity – “I reduced my nitrogen use by approx. 25% on the farm last year as I now have the proper equipment.” Passionate about increasing biodiversity on the farm, Gearoid has planted trees all around the farm, an orchard by the house, as well as hedges and tree lines throughout the fields. Gearoid doesn’t believe in chasing targets on his farm – “The old rule of thumb was a cow to the acre – and that has been my ethos all along. If I can farm a cow to the acre without pressure then that’s what I'll do.” More information on Gearoid’s farm here.
Growing Low-Input, Nutrient Dense food – Some Innovative Approaches
Trevor runs two farms, there is the home farm, 140-acres, which is cattle and sheep both organic and biodynamic certified. It is a mixed enterprise with 12 acres in forestry and 40acres in cereal. The second farm is horticultural land, 14 acres outdoors and 1500sqm indoors, where he is growing vegetables for restaurants, a box scheme and retail. On both farms, Trevor is passionate about soil health which is to the fore in his approach to management of his enterprise, the focus is to build resilience in the soil through diversity. “I feel it is so important to build the fertility in the soil as where there is a good biome, the produce will taste better.” He has planted trees, hedges and a 3-acre oak woodland. He has established a small orchard with a native meadow underneath. More information and a short film on Trevor’s farm here.
Andrew Bergin farms 320 acres of tillage. He has been practicing no-till cereals for a good number of years, while managing the soil in a way to promote high levels of biological benefits. Andrew sows cover crops, and is constantly trailing on farm what species work best for his soil and rotation. Integrated crop management is practiced to minimise the use of sprays – no insecticides have been used in the last 5 years. Pollinator strips, 6 – 10 meters wide are in place around most of the tillage fields margins, attracting large numbers of insects and birds. In addition, a number of fields margins and other areas, which were difficult to cultivate for tillage crops, have been planted with trees. “It is important to get involved in and look at local research so we can each discover what is best for our own soils, not what chemical is best to throw on it.” More information and a short film on Andrew’s farm here.
Thomas is an organic, min-till, stockless, arable farmer with 84 acres in north Co. Cork. Thomas crops on a 10-year flexible rotation that includes speciality crops like grain-lupins, linseed, lentils, sunflowers, as well as the standard grain crops. He has 10 acres of just flowers! He demonstrates the breadth of largely unexplored crops we can produce in Ireland and highlights our potential to produce our own protein crops, reducing our reliance on imported soy. The soil is never bare for long, crops are under-sown with red clover, and diverse winter cover-crop mixes fill the gaps between the cash crops. Many of the cash-crops and the cover-crops are flowering, providing great seasonal diversity for pollinators. Thomas’s farming is truly productive, profitable, and works in sync with nature – a real symbiosis. He is a shining example of how innovative and cutting edge organic arable farming can be. More information on Thomas’s farm here.
Thomas O’Connor, along with his partner Claire, manage a 25-acre mixed organic farm in Gleann na Gealt, Camp, Co. Kerry. They produce vegetables, salads, wheatgrass, meat, poultry and eggs which they sell locally in their shop in Tralee (Manna Organic Store). They have 15-acres of native Irish woodland and 4-acres of permaculture including fruit trees. They are a great example of diverse food production and biodiversity production all on very marginal land, of proving what is possible. “Climate change is caused by the disconnection with the land and we need to produce farming systems that are less energy intensive”. More information and a short film on Thomas and Claire’s farm here.