Farm Ireland

Friday 14 December 2018

Intelligent land use is a win-win situation

Some marginal land would be better planted under forestry or simply cordoned off for wildlife.
Some marginal land would be better planted under forestry or simply cordoned off for wildlife.
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Whenever the legendary American investor and billionaire Warren Buffett speaks, it is always worth listening.

In his recent newsletter to the shareholders in his investment company he commented on how American kids today are far better off than their parents were and went on to point out that John D Rockefeller, despite his vast wealth, was in general worse off than the average American nowadays.

"All families in my middle-class neighbourhood regularly enjoy a living standard better than that achieved by John D Rockefeller Sr at the time of my birth. His unparalleled fortune couldn't buy what we now take for granted, whether the field is - to name just a few - transportation, entertainment, communication or medical services. Rockefeller certainly had power and fame; he could not, however, live as well as my neighbours now do".

Technology and scientific advances have made everyone's life so much easier since the early 1900s. Travel, medical care and communications are at a level undreamt of and most Europeans and Americans have a standard of living and of nutrition never achieved before.

It's an interesting point and Buffett, who is now 85, went on to talk about the extraordinary advances in computer-driven technology, stating: "My parents, when young, could not envisage a television set, nor did I, in my 50s, think I needed a personal computer. Both products, once people saw what they could do, quickly revolutionised their lives. I now spend ten hours a week playing bridge online. And, as I write this letter, "search" is invaluable to me".

Isn't it nice to know that even billionaires are human and enjoy relaxing over a game of bridge!

The advantages this technology brings are now there for us all to avail of and they apply to farming as much as to any other profession.

Good examples are contained in the weekly e-newsletter from EFITA (European Federation for Information Technology in Agriculture, Food and the Environment) I always look forward to receiving it and yes, I know, it's a mouthful of a title but it keeps me up to date with technological advances being used by farmers throughout the world.

Also Read

I must admit that while fascinating, much of it is not applicable to Ireland and is more focused on farming thousands of acres of soya in the US or equally vast farms in Australia and elsewhere.

But there is always something to learn and one item that might be of interest to farmers here is a new software programme called Profit Zone Manager that provides a profit/loss map for your entire farm and identifies any loss making sections.

One tillage farmer in Iowa found that up to 15pc of his fields were not profitable.

He identified small sections in five fields that were consistently loss-making so he converted them in to wildlife habitat. He gets paid to do this under the US equivalent of GLAS. He finds that not only is he better off but that the basic concept of retiring unprofitable land makes sense, especially when he tackled important environmentally sensitive areas and addressed improving water quality and counteracting erosion.

This of course made me ponder on how most of us don't actually need high tech software to tell us that certain areas of our farms are not worth spending money on, either via drainage or other expensive remediation practices.


Most of us know every inch of our land intimately and it does not require rocket science to work out that some areas would be far better planted under forestry or just cordoned off for wildlife.

Many farmers like myself have discovered that it is often simply not worth the expense to drain or clear areas that are marginal for intensive farming.

It is often more sensible to fence them and use them for schemes like GLAS or, if large enough, make use of the generous afforestation schemes currently available.

If it doesn't pay to farm wet or otherwise difficult areas, what is the point in persevering throwing money at them?

Surely it is more sensible to plant suitable trees and thereby provide windbreaks and wildlife habitat. This will make life more comfortable for livestock and warm the soil through reducing wind chill for the benefit of crops.

It would also provide wood fuel for the home and excellent shelter to attract the odd tasty pheasant or woodcock for the pot.

Now that is what I call a win win situation.

Indo Farming