Welcome one and all to our second newsletter of the year at a time when, thankfully, the emergent signs of Spring are offering some solace against our ongoing pandemic woes. It’s a time of sunny celandines in shady areas, birdsong in the bushes and lambs-tails in the fields – not just on the gambolling ovines but also in the form of hazel, willow and alder catkins, loaded with valuable pollen for our early bees! At FFN we are in the midst of meeting with our amazing 2021 Ambassador nominees while continuing to be inspired and informed by our current crop of Ambassadors through weekly webinars, fascinating podcasts and beautiful short films. The innovation, positivity and can-do attitude of these farmers is just so great at a time when so many of our environmental challenges seem so insurmountable. We believe that these farmers show us a way forward, a way in which we can produce nutritious food from a healthy environment while supporting thriving local communities and building sustainable local economies. We hope you enjoy this newsletter and please spread the word about FFN among your family and friends.
The Farming for Nature initiative was established to help acknowledge and support those farmers who farm, or wish to farm, in a way that improves the natural health of our countryside. It was set up by people with a genuine interest in the wellbeing of our rural landscapes, many of whom work on a voluntary basis to build up this network and profile the good practices that are happening across the country. There are ways in which we can all get involved in this initiative, so please read on and see what you can do.
Farming For Nature – Short Video
Farming For Nature Ambassador Awards in full flight
Now in its fourth year, Farming For Nature has grown to an active network of over 40 wonderful, eloquent Ambassadors scattered across Ireland, who are inspiring many other farmers to take simple measures to enhance nature on their land. This January we received 48 new nominations regarding other farmers who are going that extra mile for nature. Each one of these farmers is worthy of acknowledgement and celebration and we thank them for their work and for the inspiration they provide. Thanks also to our (200-strong) nominator network for bringing these farmers to our attention.
If you wish to see the amazing array of nominees for 2021 please click below
We are currently engaging with these nominees as part of an in-depth interview and selection process, so that by late summer, a shortlist of 2021 Ambassadors will be compiled. We received testimonies regarding each one of our nominees and we are currently interviewing them by telephone to flesh-out these testimonies further. We will shortlist these using agreed criteria, then our judges will visit each farm on the shortlist before collectively deciding on this year’s list of Ambassadors.
The range of nominations this year is exceptional – from 2 to 1,700 acres in size, organic and conventional systems, farming beef, lamb, dairy, poultry and pigs – each one of them has a story to tell, making the shortlisting process difficult and enjoyable in equal measure!
Farming For Nature have been able to acknowledge and celebrate farmers across Ireland who are doing great things for nature. Seeing and hearing these farmers share their love of nature, and knowing that they work day in day out to make sure nature has a place on their farms, is really inspiring –these people are our unsung conservation heroes. At FFN we want to share these stories to inspire other farmers as we are convinced that, with the appropriate, targeted financial and technical support, farmers represent a great resource in tackling our biodiversity and climate crises.
These Ambassador awards are sponsored by Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme.
Meet the 2021 Nominees here
Meet our 2021 Judging panel here
Our Farm Walks schedule is now available to view!
We are very excited to announce our provisional schedule of farm walks for May-October 2021. Due to the uncertainty around the easing of restrictions, we will not open bookings until closer to the time – however you can now join an ‘expression of interest’ (waiting list) for the walk you wish to join and you will be notified when the booking is open for the walk. Being added to the waiting list is not a booking confirmation but it means you will receive an email when the walk is open for bookings. Places will be offered on a first come, first served basis.
These farm walks are an opportunity for the Farming For Nature farmers to showcase their contribution to nature and good farming practices on their land. The walks cost €10 to attend in order to reduce the number of no-shows. This is a not-for-profit initiative and all monies received will be circulated back into the farming community.
8th MAY Michael Hickey Co.Tipperary
15th MAY Mark Hurst Co.Kildare
22nd MAY Andrew Bergin Co.Kildare
5th JUNE Stephen Morrison Co.Kildare
12th JUNE Pat Lalor Co.Westmeath
19th JUNE Trevor Harris Co.Kildare
23rd JUNE ISSA Co.Clare
26th JUNE Thomas & Claire O’Connor Co.Kerry
3rd JULY Thomas Fouhy Co.Cork
10th JULY Mervyn Auchmuty Co.Roscommon
11th JULY Mimi Crawford Co.Tipperary
17th JULY Jim Cronin Co.Clare
24th JULY Thomas & Claire O’Connor Co.Kerry
7th AUGUST Sinead Moran Co.Mayo
14th AUGUST John McHugh Co.Laois
21st AUGUST Bridget Murphy Co.Sligo
28th AUGUST Kate Egan Co.Westmeath
4th SEPTEMBER Ailbhe Gerrard Co.Tipperary
11th SEPTEMBER Donna Mullen Co.Meath
18th SEPTEMBER Shackleton Family Co.Cavan
25th SEPTEMBER Kate Egan Co.Westmeath
2nd OCTOBER Olly Nolan Co.Dublin
3rd OCTOBER Mimi Crawford Co.Tipperary
9th OCTOBER Sinead Moran Co.Mayo
Farming For Nature would like to thank the farmers for their generosity in hosting these farm walks. And thanks to DAFM and NPWS who support these walks.
Add your name to farm walk WAITING LISTS here
Farmer Q&A sessions are available to listen back to
Our ‘Ask the Farmer’ series ran throughout this Winter and Spring with 13 superb Ambassadors having an informal chat with us on-line about their farm and farming system and then an open floor session with the attendees. These proved hugely popular and a great way to listen to these eloquent spokespersons for nature. You can now listen to all of these either on our YouTube channel or by following the link below.
View the Ask the Farmer Q&As’ recordings here
Meet our Monthly Ambassadors
Pat Lalor (Ambassador March 2021)
Pat Lalor has just under 300 acres in Co. Westmeath which he converted to organic 20 years ago. Pat describes organic farming as working with respect for the soil and he is totally committed to this practice; using farmyard manure from his cattle to grow clover, cereal and grass on rotation. He has half the farm in arable and half in beef where he keeps 130 weanlings for a year. Through this he has built up a thriving ‘field to fork’ business – Ballard Organic Farm. Pat sells his produce under the label ‘Kilbeggan Organic Foods’ and the range includes the award-winning Kilbeggan Porridge, porridge bread mix and handmade oat biscuits. He has added value to his product as it is under his own brand and it is 100% theirs with no imports. This side of the business involves Pat’s wife and children and their products are available in retail outlets and on-line. Pat is a strong advocate for organic farming. He operated an open farm for 20 years, welcoming school groups, agricultural students and interested members of the public, always willing to share his knowledge and experience of organic farming.
“Whilst conventional farming is about the chemistry of the soil, organic farming is about the biology of the soil. When Birdwatch Ireland did a survey of songbirds there were 32/33 present – three times more than the average conventional farm.”
Pat Lalor’s Farm Walk
Patsy Carrucan (Ambassador April 2021)
Patsy farms 200 acres of rough winterage grassland and lowland grassland in Fanore, Co.Clare. Patsy is very proud of the Burren, his homeland and he has worked tirelessly to help develop a results-based agri-environment programme as an active contributor to the BurrenLIFE Project and Burren Programme. On his own farm Patsy has adjusted his grazing and feeding regimes to encourage greater biodiversity outcomes on his upland and lowland grasslands, using his management skills and experience to do so. Patsy is also very mindful of the built heritage of the area and has restored shelter walls, boundary walls and placed traditional Burren Style gates around his farm, greatly improving the visual nature of the landscape for locals and visitors to enjoy. As a farm advisor, Patsy advises local farmers on how best to protect and enhance nature on their land.
“Outwintering the stock on Winterage grassland keeps the cost of wintering animals at a very low level but also frees up a lot of time for our other work and community involvement. Approx. 78 acres of the farm is very high in biodiversity. Over 100 acres of the farm is in an archaeological complex which strengthens our bond with past and our caring for what we want to leave behind us. Every day I walk out on the farm here in Fanore, I am inspired by the beauty of the area I live in and I ask myself, how did I get to be so lucky to be able to bring up a family in this wonderful landscape and why would I not want to leave it to the next generation in as good a condition, if not better, than the condition in which I received it?”
Case Study: Multispecies swards by James Foley
There are so many good examples of best practice amongst the nominations that we receive every year for our Farming for Nature Ambassador awards. We want to highlight some of these stories in each newsletter. Here we have James Foley, a dairy farmer from Co. Waterford. James is passionate about enhancing all aspects of nature on his land starting with changing his relationship with Nitrogen. Here is his story, in his own words:
Nitrogen recently hit the headlines in the Irish farming press “the increase in fertiliser prices has taken many farmers by surprise”. Has it really? Nitrogen has been steadily rising in price since well before I was born. The grassland of choice in Ireland for the past several decades has been monocultures of perennial ryegrass (PRG) and according to Teagasc in 2020, the recommended rate of 250kg Nitrogen/ha would have set you back €460/ha including spreading costs to grow a decent crop. That’s €18,600 for a 100 acre farm.
The indirect costs are just as high. Plant uptakes of artificial nitrogen are usually well below 50%, some ends up in our groundwater, a lot goes up as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Biodiversity also is usually quite low, as is the case in most monoculture cropping systems.
Fortunately, there is a solution which ticks the boxes for both farmers pockets and the environment. Multiple species swards (Mss) consist of a polyculture of different pasture species with grasses, legumes and herbs grown together. I have been researching these swards ever since 2015 when I read an article in the Farmers Weekly about a UK farmer who drastically cut his input costs and managed to maintain his yields. I kept researching and I found more and more studies that showed similar results. The common theme was that there is an “Overyielding Effect” when including multiple species over what would be expected if those plants were grown as a monoculture.
After I saw the initial highly positive results of the Smartgrass Trials in UCD, in 2018 I decided to take the plunge and plant 20 acres of an 18 species mix (6 grasses, 6 legumes and 6 herbs) that I got from Cotswolds Seeds in the UK. No post emergent spray can be used and I was quite worried that I would have a huge flush of docks. This however didn’t materialise as there was enough competition from the deep rooted herbs to stave off the docks. I also cut out the bagged Nitrogen, the clovers flourished and provided what the grasses and herbs needed. Yields have been excellent and the cows love the variety of species on offer. Nutritionists have known for a long time when formulating rations that mixing a variety of ingredients produces a more balanced diet as no single plant can provide everything an animal requires. Perennial ryegrass has many qualities, but it cannot provide everything that a ruminant needs.
Seeing the obvious reductions in my costs on those acres, I have continued to transition my grasslands to multiple species swards. The increase of below and above ground biodiversity including worms, grasshoppers, bees, butterflies and the birds that follow them have become more noticeable to my untrained eyes, ears and nose.
View a video on James’s farm here