LIC will run two events on Thursday, October 17, providing Irish farmers with information on how they can develop strategies that will keep their farming operations sustainable, while also delivering a sustainable profit margin.

The theme for the events is: ‘How to stay in the black while going green.’

The first event will take place on the farm of Eamonn Connaughton, in Carralough, Loughrea, Co. Galway, from 11:00am to 2:00pm, while the second event will commence at 8:00pm at Oriel House Hotel, Ballincollig, Cork.

Eamonn went down the cross-breeding route, before switching to a once-a-day (OAD) milking operation recently.

Ron Pellow from New Zealand will speak at the two meetings. Ron was the former manager of Lincoln University’s dairy farm (LUDF) in the South Island of New Zealand, where environmental issues have led to a complete change in the farm’s development and strategy.

At each event, he will be joined by Teagasc’s Brendan Horan, project manager in the development of sustainable grassland systems at Teagasc Moorepark.

Ron will discuss how to stay profitable and develop a sustainable farm system, the profit drivers needed, and talk about what sustainable cows look like.

Brendan will give his thoughts on key improvements for future dairy systems, discuss EU and customer expectations, and how farmers will benefit from meeting those expectations.

Teagasc’s Brendan Horan

Ron believes dairy farmers should be looking at lifetime performance as a key production indicator when looking to tighten farm performance and improve profitability.

“Lifetime performance isn’t a common reference we use, but it should be,” he says. “Remember, we feed an animal for two years before we get any return, so how many lactations she stays in the herd, and how much production we get in her lifetime, are crucial profit indicators.”

He also lists the quality of the animal, improved by using the right genetics for the farm system as being key, along with matching the grass growth curve to feed demand.

One of the drivers for change at Lincoln was the local community, with the farm deciding to respond to the environmental signals it was getting from residents and organisations.

“30 years ago, the Canterbury Plains were largely unirrigated and supported mixed livestock and arable farms.

“Irrigation enabled stony, dryland and low-productive farms to become viable irrigated (grazed) dairy farms. It created a pathway for intensification and development that has coincided with changing weather patterns and increased nutrient loads in streams.

Cumulatively, dairy farms were linked to much of the nitrate-nitrogen (N) load from farmland entering our lowland rivers and streams and hence segments of the community targeted dairy farmers to reduce catchment nutrient loads.

“It was easy for the public to see the change from dryland farming to irrigated dairying and associate this with reported increases in nitrate pollution of local rivers and streams.”

Increasingly, this has led to regional rules seeking to reduce nitrate losses from farming. Lincoln’s aim – as a demonstration farm – was to stay ahead of the curve and seek to operate within future regulation.

So far, it has achieved this well, maintaining production and profitability, while reducing its estimated nutrient losses and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It’s done this by lowering: stocking rates; imported feed; and N fertiliser use.

“We challenged ourselves to scale up some emerging research that challenged many of our previous assumptions. Early in the change process we saw, with hindsight, we’d been wasteful with our N applications, and with our pasture feed supply – we were using pasture for maintenance that could be used for milk production.”

The New Zealand farming community is expecting further Government-led regulations on emissions sometime this year.

At Lincoln, modelling suggested that approximately 60kg/ha of nitrate was being leached, and the farm is required to reduce this by 30% by 2022. LUDF actively sought to meet this target in 2014/2015 and the farm is now well within its 2022 target.

“We dropped our stocking rates and dropped our feed requirement for maintenance. We also lowered our N fertiliser usage and restricted the amount of imported feed/cow. In reality, we’ve better matched feed supply and demand,” he says.

“I’m sure there are more gains to come, and we need research to help identify how to produce more milk from grazed forage, with fewer cows.

“Voluntary intake of pasture for example is currently one of the limitations – so we need to understand how to overcome this and seek ways we can continually increase intake from grazed forages.”.

Looking ahead, Ron says farmers should look at their farm with a ‘new’ set of eyes – imagine you are starting into dairying without any background – and ask why you operate the way you currently do?

To summarise Ron will say the big drivers of farming today are:
  • Pasture-fed milk production, not utilisation per se, but consistent high intakes of high-quality forage 12 months of the year;
  • Environment – staying ahead of the legislative curve;
  • Increasing lifetime performance from grazed animals. Ruminant dairy cows remain a key part of the wider ecosystem and a valuable part of the food system.

When and where?

The first event will take place from 11:00am to 2:00pm on Eamonn Connaughton’s farm, in Carralough, Loughrea, Co. Galway (H62 XH36), while the second will commence at 8:00pm at Oriel House Hotel, Ballincollig, Co. Cork (P31 DY93).

Both meetings are free of charge and have been organised by LIC and will take place on Thursday, October 17.

For more information, or to book your place, just click here