Boris Johnson seems to think being green is easy. He said as much when he addressed the United Nations on Wednesday.

His exact words were: "And when Kermit the Frog sang 'It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green', I want you to know he was wrong - and he was also unnecessarily rude to Miss Piggy."

I think Boris is wrong. I think Kermit was right. It's hard being green.

Stay with me on this, I promise it's about farming.

Jim Henson, who created the Muppets and voiced Kermit, was making a whole number of subtle points in that simple song directed at kids.

One that the younger Boris (or more probably his speechwriter) mightn't have picked up on when he was listening was the issue of skin colour and the feelings that might engender.

When the song was first performed on Sesame Street in January 1970, race was as hot an issue as it is today.

Sesame Street was groundbreaking, with a multi-racial cast of human presenters.

Deep issues of difference were often explored using puppet monsters and lovable oddballs, such as Grover, as life's outsiders.


The song quickly became a standard of the American songbook, with Frank Sinatra recording it in 1971. Van Morrison and Buddy Rich were other early adopters. So too, perhaps significantly, were Diana Ross and Ray Charles.

Perhaps the adult Boris might have never used phrases such as "pickaninnies" in print if the younger Boris had grasped that message.

The other allusion the song is drawing on is the nascent ecological movement.

Kermit recorded his enduring environmental anthem a few months after Woodstock, as Marvin Gaye was writing Mercy Mercy Me. Kermit was ahead of the game.

And in saying it was hard being green but worth it, he was echoing the words of a truly great orator, John F Kennedy.

Eoin Lyons explains the benefits of cover crops to Minister of State Joe O'Brien on John Crowley's farm in Tinnashrule, Ferns. John is a participant in the Signpost Programme.

In July 1969, four months before we first met Kermit, man landed on the moon. Seven years earlier, President Kennedy had launched the mission to the moon in a speech at NASA.

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win," he said.


Few things that are worthwhile are easy. Farmers innately understand this, as working the land and tending animals is always challenging - physically, mentally and often financially.

Like Kermit, Irish farmers know that being green is central to who they are. The soil won't produce if it isn't respected; the animals need the crops the soil brings, be that forage, grains or proteins.

We are growing in understanding as to how to farm in harmony with the wider biosphere, at farm, national and global level.

However, we are up against the clock, we haven't much time to adjust. We need to make more efficient use of the scarce input resources we work with, land included.


This is where the Teagasc Signpost programme comes in. About a hundred farmers have been selected for the programme.

They are being asked to adapt to best practice quickly, to be in the vanguard of low-carbon farming. These farms and farmers are receiving intensive advice and support from Teagasc.

A couple of weeks ago, Minister of State Joe O'Brien visited a Signpost farm up the road from me.

Minister who, you say? Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development Joe O'Brien represents the Fingal (north Co Dublin) constituency and is a member of the Green Party.

He asked to visit a number of Signpost farms and John Crowley's tillage farm in Ferns was one of those chosen.

It emerged that Joe O'Brien comes from a dairy farm in Cork, which explains his understanding of the very technical presentation of the farm and the impact of the Signpost project.

Teagasc adviser Mark Plunkett explains the value of straw incorporation to Minister of State Joe O'Brien on John Crowley's farm in Ferns, Co Wexford. John is a participant in Teagasc's Signpost programme

John is doing a number of things that are innovative. He has installed a large storage tank and takes in organic manure from neighbouring farms. This is then applied to his land to feed his soil and his crops, reducing his chemical fertiliser requirement.

Michael Hennessy explained that analysis showed the application of about 3,000 gallons/acre of John's collected organic manure equated to 150kg of 7.8:5.6:20 NPK per acre.

With chemical fertiliser prices out of control at present, and always way beyond the control of everybody in Irish farming, this is a sensible cost-control measure.

Livestock farmers are coming under increasing regulation as to how much organic fertiliser they can apply and in relation to stocking rates.

This photograph of the sun setting behind the Blackstairs mountains, taken by John Crowley on his farm, won the Irish Farmers Journal "Arable April" photo competition for 2021.

The export of organic manure from pig and poultry farms on to tillage farms is a long-established practice. We may see that practice now extend to dairy and cattle farms, particularly landlocked ones in tillage areas. It makes sense in many ways.

Full circle

In many ways, that would merely be the restoration of what used to happen only a couple of decades ago.

John's farm, like my own and many around it, was a mixed farm, with cattle, sheep and tillage.

Twenty years before that, pigs, hens, strawberries, potatoes and a cow for the house were standard around Wexford farms.

The need to build a certain level of scale and the cost of modern equipment means that most farms have reduced their enterprises from many to just one or at most two.

John is now a specialist tillage farmer, with some forestry. Spreading organic manure on his tillage land is something his father did, the only difference is that John is bringing the manure in from other farms.


John is growing malting barley for Boortmalt and was one of the growers selected for Waterford Distillery's flagship signature whiskeys. 'Tinnashrule' is single-farm, single-malt whiskey. It is targeted at the German market, and retails at around €70/bottle.

'Terroir' is a phrase to describe the uniqueness or singularity of a product due to the combination of climate and soil type in the location where it is grown.

Terroir is very important in the wine market and is the kind of elevated provenance that Irish food needs to target.


John had recently planted his cover crops. As with everything in farming, timing is crucial to the success of cover crops.

Eoin Lyons explained that cover crops planted on 1 August will deliver around 4t of dry matter per hectare (DM/ha). This drops to 2t DM/ha by mid-August.

Cover crops planted in September, while covering the ground, will have a vastly lower tonnage, delivering less nutrients into the ground to feed the following crop.

John is one of those farmers who availed of the Straw Incorporation Measure.

Teagasc's Eamonn Grace explains the soil profile of John Crowley's farmland at Ferns, Co Wexford, to Minister Joe O'Brien. John is a participant in Teagasc's signpost programme

Mark Plunkett talked of the nutrient value of straw in the soil, highlighting that it returns about 10% of the phosphorus requirement to the soil, but also 50% of the potassium.

And that's before taking the value it brings in terms of increasing the organic matter percentage of the soil, the improvement in soil structure and microbial activity in the soil into account.

Minister O'Brien asked if the incorporation of straw would inhibit the establishment of a cover crop.

The answer was that at first it might, yes, but as the soil becomes more dynamic over time, that effect would tail off. The key is to have a consistent approach to soil management and enhancement.

That question showed that the minister has an understanding of hands-on farming. It was one of a number of astute interventions.

Some would like to assert that the Green Party and farmers are antagonists, but that is certainly not the case here.

Zero-carbon is where the carbon output is offset by the purchase of carbon offsets

Teagasc's Michael Hennessy highlighted the difference between zero-carbon and carbon-neutral.

Zero carbon is where the carbon output is offset by the purchase of carbon offsets, such as forests. It's simply buying absolution for environmental sins.

John Crowley's farm is moving towards carbon-neutral, where the farm itself consumes as much carbon as it produces.

This is a far better indicator of true sustainability. In fact, the intention is to measure carbon on the farm through the lifetime of the project and prove that John's farm is a net carbon sink.

Not easy

None of this is easy. John has invested heavily in sustainability measures, whether it's the equipment he uses, the large storage tank for organic manures and the time spent honing his technical management skills.

But it is worth it. With the help of the Teagasc support team, John is living up to the commitment JFK demanded of NASA 59 years ago - to organise and measure the best of his energies and skills.

And, hopefully, the hothoused accelerated learning on and from the Signpost farms will be then transmitted to the rest of us, to meet the challenge of producing food while minimising farming's carbon footprint and enhancing the relationship between farming and the wider environment.

Green's the colour of spring

And green can be cool and friendly-like

And green can be big like an ocean

Or important like a river

Or tall like a tree.

Not easy, but worth it.

Kermit and Miss Piggy

PS - I can't let Boris's other remark about Kermit go, the one where he says the frog was unnecessarily rude to Miss Piggy.

When Kermit met Miss Piggy on the set of the Muppet Show in 1976, the spark between them was obvious from the get-go, but they were opposites.

Miss Piggy was extrovert, confident and determined. Kermit was shy and intimidated by her.

Yes, he occasionally lost the plot with her, but, in his defence, he was trying to keep a struggling vaudeville show alive.

He was dealing with talking vegetables and their violent, incomprehensible chef, Gonzo, and his chickens - and a band with a drummer that made Keith Moon look like an altar boy.

And she would proposition him or push for preferential treatment over Liza Minelli or Raquel Welch just as everything was falling apart, and Kermit would lose it.

I can't say he's only human, because he's a frog, but I won't judge him. I also think Boris is in no position to lecture Kermit on how he handles his relationships with the women in his life.