What will the farm of the future look like?

Sustainability is at the forefront of Irish agri-research and Kildalton College is leading the way.

Teagasc this week announced a new sustainability initiative at the college which includes a demonstration farm and IT innovations.

“This initiative will train the next generation of farmers in the concept and practical aspects of agricultural sustainability and provide a unique environment to evaluate emerging technologies in the context of an operational farm,” a spokesman said.

Entitled ‘Kildalton 2030: Leading Sustainable Growth’, the initiative was announced at a seminar called ‘Proof & Prospects’ where more than 100 scientists, farming stakeholders and policy makers gathered at Kildalton to discuss the green credentials of Irish agriculture.

“Irish farming claims to be amongst the most sustainable producers of food in the world – a crucial asset in the marketing of Irish produce,” the spokesman continued. “Indeed, with our grass-based livestock systems, our temperate climate and rich natural heritage, Irish farming is in an ideal position to capitalise on the demand for food that is produced sustainably. But now we need to prove our green credentials. It has already been reported that Irish milk has the lowest carbon footprint in the EU, but sustainability involves more than carbon footprints alone.”

Teagasc is developing indicators to capture all aspects of sustainability, at farm level, at national level and internationally in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Speaking at the conference, keynote speaker Dr Pierre Geber of the FAO said: “With growing concerns about how food is produced, the livestock sector is under particular pressure to assess, improve and communicate on its environmental performance, while coping with the increasing demand for animal products.

“But sustainability requires more than indicators alone: it requires continuous and incremental steps to further improve production efficiencies on farms. Sustainability is synonymous with efficiency: efficient use of our resources (land, animals, and fertilisers) not only reduces impacts on the environment, it also reduces direct costs.”

At the launch of the Kildalton 2030, director of Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle said: “Irish agriculture has a unique opportunity to secure a future for farming, a future that is sustainable in the widest sense of the word: economically, environmentally and socially. The future for the next generation of farmers looks promising, exciting, but also challenging. Can we meet the twin challenges of contributing to food security on the one hand and maintenance of the world’s natural resources at the same time? One thing is for certain: farmers will be working in a world that is profoundly different from the world we know today.”

Principal of Teagasc Kildalton Agricultural College Frank Murphy said: “Now is an opportune time to prepare the next generation of farmers who will produce the bulk of our food by 2030. Over the next seven years, we will transform the dairy farm at Kildalton College into a showcase of sustainable dairy production. This initiative will assist in training students in all aspects of agricultural sustainability.”

According to Teagasc, the initiative: “Kildalton 2030: leading sustainable growth” will change the college farms – starting with the dairy farm – into a farm that is resilient to the challenges that lie ahead. It will be rolled out on a phased basis:

• Year 1: benchmarking of the sustainability performance of the Kildalton farm ‘as is’
• Years 2-3: implementation of proven technologies and best practices that is “ready for roll-out”.
• Years 4-5: a restructuring of the infrastructure in Teagasc Kildalton College. This includes not only the farm buildings and the college (e.g., water and energy use), but also the ecological infrastructure: can we make the existing woodlands and hedgerows work for us and produce wood for building and energy purposes?
• Years 6-7: step-by-step implementation of emerging technologies that are currently being researched in Ireland and abroad.

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