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Open Innovation projects identify practical ways to manage grass & safeguard animal health on farms

Decision-support packages to confront two major challenges in Irish agriculture were launched by Teagasc today, 12th December, in Tullamore. Managing grass and safeguarding animal health are two current priorities on Irish farms. The decision-support packages offer farmers practical ways to maximise grass utilisation and to help prevent/control animal health problems.

Funded by Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Teagasc led a ‘research and action’ process involving, not only leading scientists, but over 150 farmers, advisors, practicing veterinarians, cooperative representatives and other professionals working in agriculture. The aim of the projects was to combine the knowledge, experience and practical ‘know how’ of all these different actors. Contained in the decision-support packages produced by the process are illustrations, concise information, recording templates, prompt cards, and practical discussion group facilitation techniques for advisors. Combined, they provide comprehensive supports for farmers, and for professionals working with farmers, to make well-informed, implementable decisions to better manage grass and safeguard animal health.

Dr Áine Macken-Walsh, Teagasc, and research leader on the projects, said: “It’s increasingly accepted that to deal with real-life problems and opportunities, different knowledges, perspectives and types of experience are needed to co-create solutions and innovations”. Speaking about the increasing popularity of transdisciplinary, multi-actor approaches, the Teagasc researcher said: “These decision-support packages show how farmers, advisors, scientists and other professionals can work together in a creative and collaborative way to design innovative and achievable ways of working”.

The decision-support packages are focused specifically on:

  • Supporting farmers in discussion groups to develop ‘managing grass action plans’ suitable for their farms and,
  • Supporting farmers to safeguard animal health, preventing/controlling Johne’s Disease in particular.

Teagasc Business &Technology Advisor, Bernard Doorley said: “This decision-support package provides a flexible approach for a discussion group facilitator to support farmers, mobilising the help of their farmer peers, to identify ‘easy win’ actions as well as longer term plans for managing grass – all of which are tailored to, and achievable on, their particular farms”.

Dr Conor McAloon, veterinary scientist at UCD, said: “Controlling Johne’s disease on farms requires an approach that integrates and relates to farmers’ existing routines, beliefs and knowledge. This decision-support package recognises and negotiates the doubts that can arise in farmers’ minds in relation to what scientists propose to achieve good herd health. It also provides practical tools, such as recording templates, protocols and illustrations, which assist farmers to work effectively at farm-level”.

The partners in the projects were Teagasc, School of Veterinary Medicine, UCD; The Centre for Participatory Strategies; and NUI Galway.

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