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Sustainable Dairy Farming

The theme of this year’s Teagasc National Dairy Conference is ‘Dairy Sustainability’ focussing on three components of dairy sustainability: environmental, work life balance and succession/progression sustainability. The first conference is taking place in Killarney, County Kerry, today, Tuesday, 3 December.

Being a sustainable dairy farmer will involve adopting new technologies, but also renewing the best practices of the past.

Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc, Dr. Tom O’Dwyer said; “Being a sustainable dairy farmer will involve adopting new technologies, but also renewing the best practices of the past.  Irish dairy farmers have never been slow about adopting research proven technologies. Teagasc has identified the technologies and practices which will allow dairy farmers and the overall sector to improve its sustainability; and further research will develop new technologies. However, in order to improve the sector’s sustainability credentials in reality, dairy farmers need to embrace the various technologies.”

Switching fertilizer type from CAN to protected urea, and from splash-plate to low emissions slurry spreading, are two of the most practical and cost effective options that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ammonia emissions from dairy farms.  William Burchill, Teagasc dairy business and technology advisor, said; “Protected urea grows the same amount of grass as CAN, while being very cost competitive.  Low emissions slurry spreaders can deliver 3 extra units of nitrogen per 1,000 gallons slurry compared to splash-plate spreaders, while also reducing grass contamination and allowing more targeted application of slurry.”

Another step towards more sustainable farming is to use clover in grass swards. Brian McCarthy, Teagasc researcher said; “Research has shown the benefits of clover inclusion in grassland swards, with a reduced requirement for nitrogen (N) fertilizer application, increased herbage dry matter production, increased milk production and improved N use efficiency.  The biggest challenge for dairy farmers is the incorporation of clover into the grass swards - either at reseeding or through over sowing into an existing sward.”

Speaking in Killarney, Marion Beecher, Teagasc Moorepark said; “We worked with County Waterford dairy farmer, Aidan Ahearne, as he was keen to use LEAN to streamline his milking process.  By identifying areas for improvement and making a number of small changes, he saved 40 minutes per day, while still producing high quality milk.  A key lesson for Aidan from the project was that perception is often different from reality and that certain tasks are less time consuming than what he thought, while time was being wasted in other areas.”

Dairy farmer Frank Coffey from Currow, County Kerry, expanded the dairy herd from 40 cows to the current 100 cows over the years, with milk supplied to Kerry Agribusiness. He is married to Siobhan and they have four children ranging in age from 6 to 17 years so it was a busy family life that prompted Frank to look at time management on his farm. According to Frank, “I can trace my focus on time management back to when my eldest son, Gearoid, started to play football with Currow GAA club.  From initially just taking him to and from training, my involvement progressed to taking on a training role, and then the role of Club Chairman.  If I have to be in Currow for 6.30pm of an evening, well then I have to finish on the farm 30 minutes before that.  Otherwise I am leaving a lot of people down.”  He explains how he meets his off-farm commitments as follows: “Once I know that I have a commitment [outside the farm] at say, 6.30, I work back from that allowing time for the wash-up, milking, getting the cows and so on…that off-farm commitment can dictate the time I start the evening milking.”

The second dairy conference takes place in the Mullingar Park Hotel on Thursday 5 December. The proceedings for the dairy conference are available to view at https://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2019/national-dairy-conference-2019.php

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