Friday, 14 December 2018 14:55

Let’s not create new issues with on-farm solutions

Written by  Peter Burke
Irish farm systems researcher Dr Brendan Horan speaking at Massey University last month. Irish farm systems researcher Dr Brendan Horan speaking at Massey University last month.

An Irish farm systems researcher says any solutions that scientists come up with to solve problems must be simple and not create other problems.

Dr Brendan Horan, from Teagasc, the Irish agricultural research organisation at Moorepark, County Cork, says the challenge for dairy and other farmers today is to produce high-quality products in a sustainable way. This must take account of environmental and animal welfare issues to produce better quality products for consumers but still retain farm profitability.

“The key is finding simple solutions because farms are big and complicated businesses to run and you can’t have solutions that solve one problem but create another. So it has to solve a problem but still be totally integrated within the production systems. 

“Farmers are very responsive to changes on their farms but sometimes science supports changes that don’t work within farmers’ existing systems. So it’s up to scientists to create solutions that are easy to adopt.”

Horan says Irish and New Zealand farmers are aware of the challenges they face and are hungry for solutions; their problems are similar given that both run grass-based systems. He sees a lot of scope for the two countries to work together to develop solutions that will deliver better returns to pastoral farmers. 

“As a regular visitor to NZ over many years I have learned a lot from farmers and researchers. It’s a place I look to. The excellent research in NZ and Ireland needs integrating and packaging so as to solve problems for farmers.” 

Getting messages about change to ‘hard-to-reach’ farmers is no easy task and it requires multiple communication channels, Horan says. “Farmers are the curators of land. I have never met a farmer who didn’t want to improve the environmental footprint of their systems. It requires a better flow of information from customers right through the supply chain back to farmers. If you look, for example, at Europe, lots of industries there have gone down the road of more cultivation systems to avoid some of the negatives of grasslands. Invariably they found that by trying to solve one problem they have discovered many others.”

Horan says grassland provides much benefit via biodiversity, nutrient management and carbon sequestration. Farmers must ‘harvest’ those benefits and try to improve the management systems on those grasslands.

“Consumers are now looking to products produced from grass-fed animals and they can see the health benefits they offer. A whole benefit area there will benefit farmers in the long term and we have to create value from grass-based industries.”

Horan says because grass-fed products are nutritionally better for consumers, it’s important that such products command a premium in the market that will translate into better returns to farmers.

Profitability and sustainability require equal emphasis, he says.

“The good thing for grazing systems -- be it Ireland or NZ -- is that  you can have win-wins. You can have things that improve the profitability of dairy farms and are also beneficial in environmental footprints, improving the genetic merit of our animals, incorporating legumes in swards and  better management practices. We can achieve these gains while improving farm profitability and that provides great opportunities for farmers,” he says.

More like this

Managing poo made easy

Irish slurry handling specialist Abbey Machinery is working to get more value from slurry. Business development manager international, Michael O’Grady explains. 

Lights, camera, action on sheep!

Remote sensing cameras and GPS are being used by Massey University researchers to see what, if any, damage sheep cause to waterways in the hill country.

Featured

 

Celebrating healthy food

Mark Ross, chief executive of Agcarm on the work that goes into providing safe and healthy food to New Zealanders. 

No more coal-fired boilers

Canterbury-based Synlait Milk has reaffirmed its policy of building no more coal-fired boilers, with the official opening of the country’s first large-scale electrode boiler at its Dunsandel headquarters.

A slice of farming paradise in Auckland City

Livestock grazing on a farm with a good view of Auckland’s Sky Tower is the story behind the latest Dairy Women’s Network visual story telling project Our People, Their Stories.

Synlait unveils tree-planting scheme

Synlait Milk is establishing an industrial-scale native plant nursery at its Dunsandel headquarters as the centrepiece of a wide-ranging environmental initiative.

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

Milking It

Why steal Stihl?

If someone turns up on your farm, selling Stihl 461 chainsaws, please shout out. That’s the message from NZ Young…

Cow talk

Cows do talk, researchers say.

» Connect with Dairy News