Sunday 4 December 2016

Take a Farm Walk – it's good for body and mind.

Published 27/09/2016 | 16:18

Over the years, informal “walking the land” with a neighbouring farmer, has evolved into a formal learning process, Farm Walk events.

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Farm Walks are now frequently used and run by colleges, agri-consultants and agricultural organisations as active learning opportunities,  illustrating best in class practices and to support farmer leverage the benefits into their own farms.

Dr Anne Marie Butler,  Ulster Bank, shares her thoughts on Farm Walks with Tara De Buitléar, Agri Proposition Manager in Ulster Bank.

Anne Marie , Why Farm Walk events?

“Farm Walks” are great opportunities for farmers to show other farmers what works well for them, and what innovative ideas they are trying out and the resulting benefits to their farm business.

From an industry perspective, Farm Walks are opportunities to showcase innovation, share technical best practice and demonstrate what financial efficiencies can be achieved.

They  are  integral to the education of Agri students and established farmers. In my days as an Agri student and later as an Agri science lecturer in UCD, I have seen how important Farm Walks are to the learning process.   They allow farmers actively see best practice techniques working on a successful, functioning farm – with a view to take changes back to their farms to help them drive their own farm businesses forward.

Farm Walks - what do they offer  farmers ?

Ulster Bank Agri Team.
Picture by Shane O'Neill, Fennell Photography
Ulster Bank Agri Team. Picture by Shane O'Neill, Fennell Photography

Each year Teagasc, Agriculture colleges, private consultants, farm organisations and animal breeding groups organise farm walks across the country seeking to demonstrate new technologies, new behaviours while also showcasing the lessons learned and key outcomes.  The farm walk is a valuable, active learning tool for all farmers across all sectors.  Obviously some farms lend themselves better to a farm walk namely dairy, beef, tillage and sheep systems. 

Why do farmers open up their farms for a farm walk ?

Hosting a farm walk is a nice way of sharing learning and showcasing their farm model to a farmer’s peer group. Farmers facilitating the walks have typically been approached  to ‘open’ their farms as their farm is seen as ‘best in class’ or an  exemplar of good behaviours, technical efficiency and management ability.  The farm host is typically an advocate of farm walks having previously learned  from the experience of others on a walk and incorporated the recommended farm management behaviours into their day to day routine.   They are often members of discussion groups or monitor farm programmes who value continuous learning and improvement.

How do farm walks add to the learning process ?

I believe farm walks are a super example of proactive learning -  there is nothing like seeing the detail first hand.  It provides an opportunity to walk the farm, see the layout and flow of farm infrastructure, identify the challenges on somebody else’s farm and understand the learnings in the content of your own farm. 

There will be farm walks where the farm system on show is not directly applicable to the home farms of those attending but I think it’s important to see, understand and challenge new ways of doing things.  Farm walks are also a great social occasion where farmers get to meet with other like minded views and renew acquaintances with friends old and new.

Are there any do’s & don’ts when attending a farm walk ?

When going on a farm walk, do,

  • Go with an open mind
  • Go with questions
  • Wear wellies & appropriate rain gear
  • Bring a pen & paper to keep notes
  • Mix, interact & chat to the host farmer
  • Chat to those you don’t know
  • Think about what you saw and heard in the days after the farm walk
  • Enjoy yourself !

Don’t   

  • Disregard all that you hear & see just because it’s not what you have previously done on your farm

People say, everyday is a school day – despite being from a farming background - what did you learn on recent farm walks ?

I recently attended an Aurivo-Teagasc-IFAC farm walk on the farm of Timmy Quinn in Co. Mayo.  Timmy was a great host as he is open, honest, enthusiastic and clearly hard working.  The walk was a valuable reminder to me of the necessity for a clear balance in loans, farm labour and family life on any farm to ensure viability and sustainability.

Are they part of the “day job” in Ulster Bank ?

Every day my colleagues and Ulster Bank Relationship managers are visiting both existing and potential customers on their farms to understand their needs and the farm business stages of development.  Farm walks are a critical element of my role to allow me fully understand the farm system and the financial requirements both imminent and long term.  It’s important to visit farms, meet the farmers, discuss the views and plans of the farm family and visualise the planned development or new venture.

I encourage all farmers to go on a farm walk – it’s good for both body and mind.

Want to discuss your plans for your farm business?

Myself and my Agri colleagues are located across farming communities in Ireland. We are ready to meet with you to discuss your plans for your farms and how we can help you achieve your farm ambitions. Email us on agri@ulsterbank.com to arrange a meeting.

Dr Anne Marie Butler is an Agri Manager in Ulster Bank. She has completed a PhD examining the design of optimal dairy systems for contrasting Irish production environments.

She lives on a tillage farm with her family in Co Kilkenny.

 

Sponsored by: Ulster Bank

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