New scheme aims to put Donegal farmers in clover

Henry O'Donnell stands in one of the craters on a road leading to his farm, caused by the massive flood waters on the hills around Inishowen. (North West Newspix)
Henry O'Donnell stands in one of the craters on a road leading to his farm, caused by the massive flood waters on the hills around Inishowen. (North West Newspix)
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Hardy cattle, broadleaf trees and plenty of clover could prove a winning combination for farmers and the environment in north Donegal, say the backers of a new initiative in the county.

The Inishowen Uplands Project is a €1m programme funded over four years by the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) and the Department of Agriculture.

Launched last weekend in Carndonagh, the project will eventually involve around 20 farmers adopting a menu of management practices designed to increase farm incomes while tackling specific local challenges such as flooding.

"The key objective for the project from the outset was that it had to drive farm income," said Henry O'Donnell, project manager.

A small group of local farmers, including Mr O'Donnell and John McGilloway, a specialist in rural development, were the architects of the successful EIP application for Inishowen.

The project is based on designing a whole-farm approach to landscape management in the north Donegal peninsula.

"Managing uplands just can't be done in isolation," Mr O'Donnell pointed out.

There are three main planks to the initiative. These involve the introduction of cattle onto the upland areas of Inishowen; the adoption of agroforestry by the farmers involved; and the use of clover on the lowland grazing and silage ground.

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These measures will be supported by a spatial mapping of the farms involved, and the peninsula generally, to establish rainfall patterns and ground water flows - particularly off the uplands region.

Flash floods in August 2017 resulted in the significant damage to roads, bridges, houses and farmland in Inishowen.

Identifying land management practices that mitigate this flood threat is one of the primary goals of the project.

In a very visible change to existing farming practices, the project will encourage participating farmers to reintroduce breeds such as Galloway, Highland or Angus onto the hills to complement their sheep farming operations.

"Grazing light, hardy cattle on the uplands improves the bio-diversity and composition of hill swards for all livestock," Mr McGilloway explained.

Agroforestry, the practice of combining forestry and agriculture, will also be a key component of the project. In Inishowen this will involve planting suitable broadleaf trees at pre-defined locations.

Shelter belts

In addition, the planting of hedgerows and coppicing of existing hedging will be a required action for farmers.

"These hedgerows create biodiversity corridors, as well as providing shelter belts, which have been shown to improve daily liveweight gain in livestock," Mr McGilloway said.

The tree cover and hedgerows offer further benefits such as extending the grazing season by drying soils, capturing nutrient run-off into water courses, and mitigating flood risks through water infiltration.

Meanwhile, the use of clover on grazing ground and silage fields will reduce fertiliser requirements, Mr O'Donnell explained, with all the attendant climate change and water quality benefits.

It is envisaged that participation in the project will be worth in excess of €4,000/year to farmers. However, Mr O'Donnell insisted that only committed farmers will be considered.

"We need farmers who are committed to the project and will really engage and buy into it," he said.

"Their attitude will have to be right to get results."

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