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Lessons from the Grass10 Grassland Farmer of the Year (GFOY) Finalists
The AIB supported Teagasc Grass10 programme seeks to increase grass growth and utilisation on Irish livestock farms (dairy, beef and sheep). A key component of the Grass10 initiative is the increasingly popular Grassland Farmer of the Year (GFOY) competition. In this article, Bryan Doocey, AIB Agri Advisor and 2018 GFOY judge shares some insights from 2018 and what the top grassland farmers have in common.
Judging for the 2018 Grassland Farmer of the Year (GFOY) took place in September over a 3 week period with John Maher (Teagasc), Aidan Brennan (Irish Farmers Journal), Niall Ryan (Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine), PJ O’Connor (Grassland Agro) and myself hitting the road and visiting the farms of the top graded GFOY applicants all around the country.
We had 5 broad areas that we were assessing farms on:
1. Grass production – grass measurement, fertiliser and slurry application dates, etc.
2. Farm soil fertility / fertiliser plan
3. Reseeding – the method & reason for reseeding; use of Pasture Profit Index (PPI), etc.
4. Infrastructure Assessment – roadways, access points, water troughs, use of back fencing, etc.
5. Environmental & sustainability – use of renewable energy, fertiliser usage, stocking rate, etc.
Often when I think of finalists in a competition, or even the eventual winner, I think that they must have had everything right and make no mistakes. To the contrary. What the finalists of this competition showed is that every farm encounters problems on a daily basis – from fodder shortages, herd health problems, wet land, small and fragmented milking platforms – but what set the finalists apart from perhaps other farms is how they deal with the problems and find solutions.
There were also other common traits that the finalists shared that quickly became apparent:
- Management ability is key. Despite varying underlying land type, there was little difference in the amount of grass produced;
- All did the basics excellently, measured grass regularly and acted swiftly on results;
- The farmers on more difficult land were implementing strategies to avoid poaching and maximise grass utilisation – key for grass growth in subsequent rotations;
- All demonstrated great attention to detail with innovative ideas on each of the farms; and,
- All placed a big emphasis on work life balance and wanted a farming system that allowed them to enjoy their work and family life.
John & Olivia McNamara from outside Hospital, Co. Limerick were the 2018 Overall & Dairy Grassland Farmer of the Year. They grew an average of 16T Grass DM/Ha whilst achieving an average of 8.5 grazings per paddock on their farm in 2017. Whilst they excelled in all areas of grassland management they put particular focus on building their grazing infrastructure and reseeding lower performing paddocks. John is a fantastic advocate for sustainable grassland production while always keeping the environment in mind.
If you are looking to improve grass growth and utilisation on your own farm, it’s important to remember that small changes can have a big influence and it’s never too late to start. Teagasc have a number of resources available at www.teagasc.ie/grass10, with a number of practical GFOY farm walks also taking place around the country in the coming weeks if you want to make that first step.
Please be aware that all of the views expressed in this Blog are purely the personal views of the authors and commentators (including those working for AIB as members of the AIB website team or in any other capacity) and are based on their personal experiences and knowledge at the time of writing.
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