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Research impact highlights - Dairy

The benefits of benchmarking 

George Ramsbottom

Research Impact 2020Irish dairy farms have changed rapidly since EU milk quotas were abolished. A study conducted to evaluate the association between usage frequency of the financial benchmarking tool Profit Monitor (PM) and farm changes on spring-calving pasture-based dairy farms has shown that farmers who benchmark frequently make more progress.

The most frequent users of PM (those who completed the tool between seven and nine times during the period 2010-2018) had the greatest increase in intensification, productivity and financial performance. Infrequent and low users of PM (those who completed the tool between four and six times and one and three times respectively during the period 2010-2018) were intermediate for all variables measured. Non-users, meanwhile, had the least change.

3,000 The number of dairy farmers using PM has doubled over the past decade to approximately 3,000.

Despite considerable fluctuations over the observation period, the overall increase in total farm net profit between 2010 and 2018 for the frequent PM users was 70% (€37,639); while farm net profit for the non-user category increased by 42% (€10,977). It is believed that further development and extension of financial benchmarking tools may increase dairy farmers uptake and facilitate development of a more sustainable agri-food sector. 

Correspondence: george.ramsbottom@teagasc.ie 
Funding: Teagasc grant-in-aid.

Helping farmers reduce energy use

John Upton

Teagasc has partnered with Munster Technological University (MTU) and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to deliver an online Dairy Energy Optimisation Platform that helps farmers reduce their energy use and maximise the use of solar energy. Decision support tools such as this are critical in achieving national targets for renewable energy deployment and energy related CO2 emission reductions in agriculture.

70% The percentage of farms having installed or intending to install energy efficient technology has increased from 52% to 70% since the launch of the Dairy Energy Decision Support Tool.

The platform identifies the best blend of energy efficient and renewable technologies for individual farms, based on either economic or environmental criteria. Users are provided with a simple payback period and carbon emissions offset resulting from any technology changes. The platform is a new addition to the existing Dairy Energy Decision Support Tool, which has been used over 4,000 times since its launch in 2018.

Correspondence: john.upton@teagasc.ie 
Other contributors: Michael Murphy, Philip Shine and Michael Breen (MTU) and Eleanor Murphy (Bord Bia).
Funding: Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland; Teagasc grant-in-aid; Teagasc Walsh Scholarship Programme

Milk matters: testing for protected urea residue

Patrick Forrestal, Chikere Nkwonta, Karl Richards and Martin Danaher

Protected urea (urea with a urease inhibitor NBPT) is a fertiliser technology with the potential to reduce farm emissions significantly, and is a key measure of the Teagasc Greenhouse Gas and Ammonia Marginal Abatement Curve (MACC).

A request from industry that milk from cows grazing pastures fertilised with protected urea be tested for residue potential led Teagasc to develop a highly sensitive validated method for the detection of the urease inhibitor NBPT in 2020. Using this method, researchers found no urease inhibitor residues in the milk of cows grazing pastures fertilised with protected urea. This work was published in an open access journal and has provided reassurance in moving forward with protected urea adoption to reduce farm emissions of ammonia and nitrous oxide.

Correspondence: patrick.forrestal@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Macdara O’Neill and Niharika Rahman.
Funding: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.