The Signpost Programme is one of the latest programmes from Teagasc focused on achieving early progress in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Irish agriculture.
The programme also looks at water quality; maintaining and improving biodiversity; and creating a more profitable and sustainable farming enterprise.
The signpost programme consists of farms that showcase the different practices and actions that can reduce emissions, and it will create a framework of farms for carbon sequestration research. These farms have a target of 15-per-cent reduction of GHG emissions by 2025.
Patrick and Paula O’Hanlon manage one of five farms in County Kerry partaking in the programme. On Tuesday last, they held a farm walk on their farm.
They already had an interest in sustainability prior to joining the programme, but given the aims of both profitable and environmentally sustainable farming, it was an easy decision to follow through on that initial interest.
Patrick and Paula noticed the change in consumer interest of where food comes from, and this shift highlights the importance of such a programme for farmers, farming into the future.
Some of the most notable changes on farms since getting involved in the programme were the improvements to slurry utilisation.
The surplus storage on farm gives great flexibility to use the slurry when needed, as well as using low emission slurry spread methods.
Clover generated a lot of interest from the crowd. The inclusion of clover into swards and reducing the reliance on chemical fertiliser has big savings in terms of GHG emissions.
Patrick discussed clover management on farm: targeting recently reseeded paddocks with open swards and optimal soil fertility was an easy win in terms of getting clover to establish.
His aim is to reseed or over sow 10 to 15 per cent of the farm every year, to allow for those paddocks to get the ideal management – grazing regularly at low covers and avoiding soil damage being critical for achieving the best results.
The baseline of biodiversity on the farm was already at a high standard. Parts of the farm were managed more extensively with rough grazing, woodlands and thick, healthy hedgerows.
There are no significant watercourses on farm but, nonetheless, buffer strips are implemented for any drains or ditches.
Patrick spoke on his herd performance and detailed his management regime. Breeding focused on yearly EBI gains with an emphasis on fertility, milk and health.
A herd health-check identified any underlying issues, and a subsequent vaccination and health plan was drawn up.
This had a big impact on herd performance and allowed for more efficient herd management. Prior to this, health wasn’t a huge focus, however this has shifted to improve the health and longevity of the animals bred on farm.
Cows will be dried based on the latest milk recording, and in small groups. Cows with low cell count, less than 80,000/ml, will be dried with teat sealer only.
The biggest learning outcome from the participation in the programme so far was the early management required to establish clover, along with best practice to maximise its benefits.
Another eye-opener was the ecological importance of the biodiversity already on the farm.
Patrick said he has a new appreciation for the wildflowers and trees on farm; everything has a role to play.