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Inishowen Upland Farmers Project


The objective of the Inishowen Upland Farmers project is to have a whole farm approach to landscape management and develop innovative measures to increase farm profitability. Teagasc environment specilaist Catherine Keena and Henry O'Donnell of the Inishowen Upland Farmers Project give information.

Main messages

  • A whole - farm approach promotes more joined-up thinking about nature and the farming enterprise
  • There is a place for trees on all farms to improve the resilience of livestock and arable farms
  • Diverse swards are favoured for production and environmental reasons
  • Ponds are recommended for environmental reasons and also as a possible water supply for livestock
  • Managed grazing by bovines on the uplands will improve the grazing for sheep on the same platform.

Introduction

The Inishowen Upland Farmers project is an upland European Innovation Partnership project funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Local farmers are leading the project. The Operational Group includes Teagasc, Leader, Sligo IT and local agricultural consultants. The objective is to have a whole farm approach to landscape management and develop innovative measures which increase farm profitability through the implementation of five key measures on suitable farms within the Inishowen peninsula while at the same time delivering on climate change, biodiversity and water quality initiatives as well as trialling best practice in upland management. The Inishowen Upland Farmers project commenced in 2019.

Inishowen Upland Farmers in action

There are 25 farmers participating in the project. Each farm has been mapped to inform decisions made in conjunction with farmers to draft individual farm plans. A whole farm landscape approach is used to strategically locate actions. A demonstration farm was used effectively to demonstrate actions before farmers undertook them on their own farms. This helped farmers understand and undertake appropriate actions.

Plate 1. Demonstrating actions beforehand facilitated appropriate actions being undertaken

Figure 1. Mapping a participating farm in the Inishowen Upland Farmers Project using a whole - farm landscape approach to strategically locate measures.

Grazing the uplands with cattle which has been undertaken by twelve farmers, some with privately owned hill and some on commonage. On the commonages shareholders will engage in a share farming type arrangement to acknowledge the activity of the participant putting the cattle on the uplands. Cattle compliment sheep in grazing the uplands as they are non-selective grazers, removing vegetation that sheep won’t eat. This encourages regrowth of palatable vegetation for both cattle and sheep and maintains the diversity in the habitat required for Favourable Conservation Status.

Several agroforestry plots have been established on the demonstration farm, each with a specific purpose: shelter; disease control; act as a barrier to nutrients and sediment; and produce timber. Grazing is prevented in the short-term to allow trees establish, but will be opened up to grazing. It has been agreed that this area will remain as eligible land for payments.

Diverse swards have been established on 21 farms. Conventional reseeding methods have most successful establishment. Redshank has been an issue, but was controlled by topping. Farmers are pleased with early results on animal performance. Only three participants undertook the option of red clover to be harvested as round bale silage. Initial results show a very productive, low nitrogen input sward.

Approximately twenty ponds have been created and are developing. Strategic locations were chosen. Some are in the uplands and others in riparian zones adjacent to watercourses. Effects on water flow are evident.

Conclusions and implications

A whole farm approach promotes more joined-up thinking about nature and the farming enterprise. Farmers are more likely to engage if core changes support the core farm business. Innovative measures can be designed that improve the profitability and efficiency of farming while delivering on climate change, biodiversity and water quality.

There is a place for trees on all farms to improve the resilience of livestock and arable farms. Rather than planting a hectare of trees and forgetting about them, it is important to plan and get benefits from the trees in terms of disease control, shelter, water infiltration, lengthening the grazing season and flood mitigation and a crop of timber in the long term. The objective should be to have lots of trees on the farm without forestry replacing livestock farming.

Diverse Swards are productive and highly palatable giving high animal performance. They are low input system requiring little or no artificial nitrogen fertilisers and because of the different rooting structures they improve soil structure and water infiltration. They have many environmental benefits and anthelmintic properties.

There is a place for ponds on most farms for the environmental benefits as well as the possibility for on farm use as a water supply for livestock. Managed grazing by bovines on the uplands will improve the grazing for sheep on the same platform.