Save the planet, save on the farm: Irish farmers learn smart farming

Environmental measures in joint EPA/IFA initiative save farmers an average of €6,300

Owen Brodie  on his dairy farm in Cavan. He participated in the 2019 Smart Farming programme.

Owen Brodie on his dairy farm in Cavan. He participated in the 2019 Smart Farming programme.

 

For Cavan dairy farmer Owen Brodie, a first-time participant in the Smart Farming programme to improve farm returns while enhancing the environment, it was a tough start. He had to supply a detailed audit of his farm after some hard weeks due to sustained bad weather.

That was last March, and while he was amazed by the level of detail sought, he was even more surprised with the breadth of the report he got back some weeks later.

It highlighted key issues on his combined holding of 70 acres with a further 70 rented acres and a herd of 180 milking cows. They related to feed efficiency, fertiliser use, electricity/water and management of nutrients and labour.

More efficient electricity use was one “where I needed to pull up my socks”, he recalls, so he installed a variable speed milk pump and more timers which, in spite of the capital investment, will, he says, be “a nice saver”.

Smart Farming is a voluntary resource management programme run by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a view to addressing climate change issues and increasing profitability; 50 farm families participated this year.

The average cost savings on participating farms was €6,336, while measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 10 per cent were identified. Addressing soil fertility accounted for 24 per cent of savings, while improved grassland management accounted for 23 per cent.

Brodie estimates he has saved about €4,000 already, also factoring in improved fertiliser application, and more efficient grass/silage management. Ensuring grass is the source of feed on 270 days of the year can also bring a significant emissions reductions and he is currently at 260 days.

The key aspect was “learning where the benefits are for the climate or the environment from what I have . . . and to keep doing it”. He has got the pH right in his soil, and planted trees and hedgerows which reduces the carbon footprint significantly.

Brodie has no doubt the measures are proven, while their implementation is helped by accessible language. They are being incorporated into his annual farm plan and he will soon be meeting his farming neighbours to outline his results.

“Participating farmers continue the good work of previous programme participants,” explains EPA director general Laura Burke. “They will continue to share the outcomes of their Smart Farming studies with their neighbours, as part of the peer-to-peer knowledge exchange module of the programme.”

The agency is calling on farmers and agribusiness leaders to participate in Smart Farming and to help ensure the long-term environmental and economic sustainability of Ireland’s agricultural sector.

IFA president Joe Healy says it was a good year for the programme, especially as the farmers involved were recognised at the RDS Spring Awards and it was selected as a “Sustainable Development Goals Champion” for 2019 and 2020. “This provides a positive platform for farmers to build on their sustainability actions, in the face of increasing climate, biodiversity, air and water challenges.”