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Focusing on sustainability at Newford

Focusing on sustainability at Newford

Attendees at last week’s open day at Newford farm were told of a number of measures that have been implemented on the farm in recent years to improve sustainability and the farm’s carbon footprint.

For example, in May 2021, 8ha of grassland were over sown with white clover and a further 18ha were over sown in 2022. For the year ahead, an additional 12ha of grassland will be over sown with Buddy white clover. Over sowing clover has not only reduced the farm’s dependency on expensive chemical fertiliser, but clover also acts as a nectar source for bees during summer.

In spring 2023, 220m of native hedging - consisting of whitethorn and blackthorn - was sown. This will act as a corridor for wildlife and shelter for new-born calves. A small paddock in the farmyard was set aside in 2022, consisting of traditional grasses and flowers which are allowed to seed over the summer. In the near future, it is hoped that an apple orchard consisting of native varieties will be established. This paddock was grazed in September by weanlings to remove dead vegetation and let light to the base of the plants during the winter months and will be grazed again in September 2023.

In the below video, Michael Fagan, Jonathan Herron, Rachel Murphy and Daniel Flynn, Teagasc, discuss the sustainability initiatives being carried out at Newford farm.

In 2022, Newford farm joined the Future Beef Programme and Signpost Programme and with the help of the assigned programme advisors, Newford farm will demonstrate best practice regarding sustainable beef production by improving efficiency of the farm, improving biodiversity, while increasing farm profitability.

Both programmes involve implementing a suite of measure to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, focused around: reducing age of slaughter; implementing a herd health plan; increasing the length of the grazing season; using protected urea; reducing chemical fertiliser use by 10kg per hectare; increasing soil fertility and pH; making better use of slurry through spreading an increasing proportion of the slurry in the spring and using low emission slurry spreading equipment (LESS).

Similarly, as part of ASSAP – Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme - Newford continues to demonstrate best agricultural practices to improve the quality of nearby water courses by implementing a number of measures, including: a targeted approach when spreading chemical fertiliser and organic manure; abiding by buffer zones when spraying herbicides prior to reseeding and when spreading fertiliser. Farmyard runoff is also diverted into slatted tanks instead of hard core areas around the farm yard.

Newford has greatly reduced the slaughter age of steers and heifers to 18 and 21 months, respectively, which has led to achieving great savings in terms of reduced silage consumption and the need to purchase expensive concentrate.

This too has significant environmental benefits by reducing Newford’s carbon footprint. The Teagasc roadmap identifies that the carbon footprint of suckler to beef systems nationally is 23.8kg carbon dioxide per kg of carcass weight. However, Newford animals produced 20.4kg carbon dioxide equivalent per kg carcass weight, which is 14.3% lower than the national average. Therefore, in 2021 Newford farm emitted 655t CO2eq. By reducing the age of slaughter by two months of the 2021-born heifers and bullocks decreased Newford’s emissions by 2.3% to 640t carbon dioxide equivalent.

Green Feed at Newford

In December 2022, Teagasc installed an Eddy Covariance Flux Tower. The flux tower uses high resolution gas analysers to measure the instantaneous carbon dioxide concentration from the air and therefore can be used to measure soil carbon fluxes. The overall objective of this sustainability initiative will help Newford to increase its understanding on soil carbon fluxes and thus to determine whether the Newford soils are acting as sinks or sources, as well as aiding the management of our soil carbon fluxes. In January 2023, Newford received a GreenFeed (C-Lock), which will measure enteric methane, hydrogen and carbon dioxide produced from Newford livestock.

The Newford Farm was established by Teagasc and Dawn Meats, with the support of McDonald's and the Irish Farmers Journal, to demonstrate best practice in sustainable suckler beef production. This article first appeared in the Newford Suckler Open Day book. Access the full book here.

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