Milking 120 cows in a sustainable way

Eugene Fitzpatrick farms over 75ha of land in Lisryan outside Granard, Co. Longford, and supplies milk to Lakeland Dairies.

Eugene returned to Ireland from Texas to run the family’s farm after his father had retired. At that point, his father Benny had a suckler enterprise.

“I always had an interest in dairying. Very few farmers were going into full-time dairying at the time and people were putting me off.

“However, I bought quota and stuck with the plan to replace the sucklers with milking cows and I never regretted it.”

When speaking about Bord Bia’s Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS), the Longford-based farmer said it’s very beneficial to his farm management programme.

Dairy farmers who are certified members of SDAS, and who participate in a farm sustainability survey as part of their audit, are members of Origin Green.

By participating in SDAS, Origin Green farmers can measure and benchmark their sustainability practices; helping them to identify efficiencies which they can improve on their own farm, which can also improve profitability.

Key improvement measures include:
  • Increased Economic Breeding Index (EBI);
  • Longer grazing season length;
  • Improved nitrogen use efficiency;
  • Improved slurry management and energy efficiency.

Farming in a sustainable way

On this, Eugene said: “I got a print out on improvements and efficiencies; it’s a great way to benchmark myself against the national average.

“I never had these figures before, so now I know what to focus on and how to adapt my plan.”

Eugene discovered that he was scoring well on slurry management, nitrogen usage, grazing season, energy efficiency and EBI (Economic Breeding Index). These all resulted in the carbon footprint on his farm being lower than the national average.

Eugene Fitzpatrick measures grass on a weekly basis. Image source: Dylan Vaughan

“We made a number of efficiency improvements on the farm that had significant cost savings for us.

“We installed solar panels on the milking parlour and switched from night rate electricity to natural gas to heat the water. This saved us €1,500/annum alone.”

Along with being a certified member of SDAS, Eugene is currently involved in a pilot scheme with Lakeland Dairies.

This scheme examines soil fertility and compares it with tests being carried out in other parts of Ireland and the world. The soil sampling has made a big difference. Eugene gave the example of one paddock which tested as index 2 in 2013 and had a lime requirement of 8.76t/ha.

“That same paddock is now sampling at index 4, which is where you want to be,” said Eugene.

He’s also involved in a discussion group called Grass Roots that’s mentored by Seamus Nolan of Teagasc.

We’re focusing on producing more kilograms of milk solids per hectare and reducing our meal and fertiliser costs by maximising what we can produce out of the grass.

Eugene measures his grass weekly and reseeds up to 15% of his farm annually.

“The whole farm has been reseeded over the last eight-to-ten years and we’re constantly trying to improve the worm activity in the ground too.”

Eugene is using Progressive Genetics and selecting sires for breeding to be more sustainable and efficient in terms of fertility and milk solids production.

“This year, we’ll have 6% of cows empty out of 120 cows and our milk solids are improving every year,” he said.

Representation needed on international markets

Eugene believes that with Brexit looming, it’s particularly important that Irish products are represented on international markets through programmes like Origin Green.

“We’ve probably got one of the best countries in the world in terms of being able to produce a sustainable, high-quality product.

“But, it’s not just about our impact abroad. It also comes back to the survival of rural Ireland. If farmers are doing well, so too is the rest of rural Ireland as we can employ others to help on the farm or students who want to work at weekends,” he explained.

Eugene believes that if people move away from the land, rural Ireland will just become more rural.

“The work of farmers has a positive role in communities ranging from the availability of players for the local GAA club to supporting local shops, pubs and suppliers.”

A sustainable future in dairy farming

Eugene and his wife Deirdre now have two children; Ruth is three-years-old and Conor is aged two.

He’d gladly encourage either of them to take up farming, adding: “I believe there’s a sustainable future in farming in this country, as there are so many different jobs associated with farming.”

Eugene and Deirdre Fitzpatrick, pictured with Ruth (3) and Conor (2), on their farm in Co. Longford. Image source: Dylan Vaughan

However, Eugene’s journey into farming didn’t begin in the usual way and it wasn’t without its twists and turns.

Alongside his three siblings, Eugene was raised in the family’s pub in Arva, Co. Cavan. His father, Benny, also ran a milking machine business and it wasn’t until 1983 that he and his wife Teresa bought a farm.

“My father had come from a farming background and my mother was a public health nurse.”

Sadly, Teresa died in 1993 at the age of 46. At the time, Eugene, the eldest of the family, was just 17 years-of-age.

Recalling this difficult time, he said: “We all just had to help out. My sisters played a big role in keeping the house going. The pub was only open in the evening.

“If my father was late home from the farm, one of us would put the spuds on; then open the pub; and light the fire.”

After leaving school, Eugene went on to Multyfarnham Agricultural College where he completed his Green Cert.

He also completed a two-year farm management course. He spent 10 years working with a pig farmer, called Donal Brady in Co. Longford, which was a very positive experience.

“I learned quickly that every day is different but that it is very important to manage everything in a way that is efficient and tidy so that you understand what you need, order what you need and nothing is wasted – particularly grass or feed.”

Another positive experience was when he got an unexpected opportunity to work in San Antonio, Texas, at the age of 25.

I found myself standing in the airport in Texas wondering what I was doing.

From there, he went to work in a feedlot. On this experience, he said: “It was a completely different scenario to the sustainable practices we had back home – this was farming on a massive scale.

“On my first day, I went looking for a stick to round up the stock. Meanwhile, everyone else went looking for their horse,” he joked.

Eugene described this experience as being a huge boost for his confidence, adding: “I realised I could cope on my own, make friends and be independent.”

In terms of his own life philosophy, he refers to an old saying he once heard while working on Donal Brady’s farm.

It’s the constant tapping that breaks the stone. You just have to keep going and eventually you’ll get there.

More information

Dairy farmers who are certified members of the Bord Bia Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) and who participate in a farm sustainability survey as part of their audit are members of Origin Green.

Find out more here