The oldest of four children, Edwin always had a passion for farming. His earliest memories are of feeding calves or making hay during the summer, surrounded by cousins and friends. ‘I could never imagine myself doing anything else,’ he says. After school, Edwin completed a Higher National Diploma in the University of Aberystwyth, Wales and then spent time in New Zealand. He met his wife Diane in 1997 at the Dundrum Macra club. They have three boys, Marcus aged ten and twins Karl and Luke aged eight.
Edwin Thompson (right) is pictured with his father, John.
Dairy farmers who are certified members of the Bord Bia Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) and who participate in a farm sustainability survey as part of their audit are part of Origin Green. SDAS and the carbon navigator allow Origin Green farmers to measure and benchmark their sustainability practices, helping them to identify efficiencies which they can improve on their own farm, which can also improve profitability. Key improvement measures on dairy farms taking part in SDAS and the sustainability survey include: Increased Economic Breeding Index (EBI), longer grazing season, improved nitrogen use efficiency, improved slurry management and energy efficiency.
Measuring and Benchmarking with SDAS and the Carbon Navigator
As a member of Origin Green, Edwin talks about the benefits of the SDAS scheme in helping him to benchmark his farm against others. ‘The carbon navigator enables us to compare and measure our performance, so we know the areas where we’re doing well and where we need to improve,’ says Edwin.
Good Grass Management Yielding Real Results
Good grass management has yielded real results on the Thompson farm. ‘Grass feed is the most cost efficient there is and if we can maximise that, we can improve our efficiencies all round,’ says Edwin. ‘Our focus is always to get our cows out as much as we can; and to get grass into the system as much as we can.’ Edwin’s cows are grazing outside from mid-February to mid-November, with on/off grazing in between to protect the soil.
Edwin measures his grass every week. ‘The biggest advantage of measurement is knowing the growth’ he says. ‘Once growth exceeds demand, we bale it for silage. If it goes below demand, we know we have to give supplement feed in order to fill the gap,’ says Edwin. ‘Nine out of ten years we have produced enough silage ourselves. Home grown silage is the most economical and best. A good quality round bale is very hard to beat.’
Edwin says that ten years ago, he was only growing 10-11 tonnes of grass dry matter in a season. ‘Currently we are growing about 15 tonnes of grass dry matter in a season. This means we have successfully increased the number of stock that we carry, but have been feeding much the same level of meals.’
Monitoring Costs and Improvements
‘In terms of profitability, SDAS and the carbon navigator also helps you to monitor costs and to work out a plan for your own farm. For example, when we buy in dairy nuts, we work out how the cows will react and what the cost will be. It’s all about the sums and anything that helps you with that is of benefit. It also focuses the mind on the importance of traceability and herd health, particularly when it comes to dosing our stock and putting a plan in place that works for us.’
Milk protein has certainly improved over the last 10 years increasing from 3.55% to 3.66% which obviously leads to a much increased milk price. Edwin favours a British Friesian breed for his own farm and talks about the importance of this breed in terms of fertility, compact calving and ease of calving.
Edwin is keen on future proofing his farm from an environmental perspective. He has installed solar panels to heat the water and is considering a small wind turbine for the farm in the future.
Origin Green Sustainable Dairy Farming and the Bord Bia Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS)
The Thompsons supply their milk to Tipperary Co-op which exports cheese, butter, infant formula and powders.
Retail and foodservice customers, as well as food and drink manufacturers, are increasingly committed to “sustainable sourcing” - sourcing from suppliers with robust and recognised certification, such as the Bord Bía Quality and Sustainability Assurance Schemes. Already, Origin Green verified members account for over 90% of Ireland’s total food and drink exports.
Edwin is the fourth generation of Thompsons to farm the land at Golden. Edwin’s parents John and Marion, live alongside them on the farm. Edwin says that the family’s business decision to enter into a partnership has been very beneficial. ‘It has helped us from an accounting perspective but it has also been a great stepping stone for me into farming. My father was a very hard worker and a progressive farmer with great attention to detail. Now my father can do less on the farm and be confident that there is a succession plan in place.’
When asked what advice he would give to other farmers, Edwin says: ‘Always follow best practice and employ good people. Whether it’s a vet, an accountant or your Teagasc advisor, take their advice seriously and accept whatever support and guidance you can get.’
Batch AI crushes are now included in the Traditional Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) II. The batch crush allows farmers to artificially inseminate (AI) a group of cows quickly and safely. In the batch crush system, cows are controlled in a similar fashion to a herringbone parlour where a group of cows stand in a row side by side. Batch crushes have become more popular on expanding dairy farms where large numbers of cows have to be inseminated daily during breeding. Traditionally cows were artificially inseminated in an ordinary cattle crush. Some farmers have found this system to be tedious because each cow has to be individually restrained.
The Department's reference cost for batch AI crushes is €191/linear metre excluding VAT. The length is measured from the entrance gate to exit gate in a straight line along the breast rail. Grant aid is based on either the lowest of the Department's reference cost, the proposed cost by an applicant at application stage or receipts per finished investment item. The minimum approval per application under all schemes is €2,000. General applicants are entitled to grant aid of 40% towards the cost of a finished and approved investment. Qualifying young farmers are entitled to grant aid of 60% towards the cost.
In TAMS II, all building work has to meet the Department of Agriculture’s minimum specifications. The Department has listed these specifications on the TAMS section of their website. The specifications for batch AI crushes can be found under S137. The main specifications include:
Batch crushes may be either fixed width or adjustable width.
They are designed for dairy cows only.
The crush must be designed so that cows stand at an angle across the crush, in a similar manner to a cow stand in a herringbone milking parlour.
The unit must consist of a rump rail, breast rail with neck rail and front and rear gates.
The width of the crush depends upon the size of cows.
The rump rail must be at least 1.28m high and consist of at least three fixed rails and one drop rail (a total of four rails).
The breast rail must consist of at least two rails, in a lattice form, of minimum 60mm OD tubing with a 3.0mm wall for adjustable width batch AI crushes and of at least two rails of minimum 48.0mm OD tubing with 3.0mm thick wall for fixed width batch AI crushes.
The neck rail must consist of at least 90mm OD tubing and must be supported such that the cows head cannot be caught against the vertical elements.
Farmers planning on building a batch crush through TAMS II should become familiar with all the specifications listed under S137. If the crush is not designed to the Department's specs you may not receive full grant aid for the project.
Batch crushes make it easier and quicker to carry out artifical insemination on a group of in-heat dairy cows during the breeding season.
TAMS II is set up in a series of three month long tranches. Applications for the scheme are taken while a tranche is open and approvals to make the investment are usually issued a couple of months after the tranche closes.
The closing date for the current TAMS II tranche (11) applications has been set as 7 September 2018.
The Department has proposed that tranche 12 will open on 8 September 2018 and close on 7 December 2018.
Tranche 13 will open for applications subsequently on 8 December and close on 5 April 2019.
The Irish Farmers Journal understands that results of the latest sale to be published by the European Commission on Friday show just 2,408t of intervention SMP found a buyer this week.
This is 10 times less than the previous monthly sale on 19 June, when 23,532t were sold. In May, the volumes sold were much higher, just under 42,000t.
Offers came in for 27,768t, showing a 100,000t drop in demand since May's record sale. Although European experts lowered the minimum price accepted to €1,125/t, most offers fell below this threshold and were rejected.
The minimum price was €1,195/t last month and €1,155 in May. This compares with a market price of €1,520/t for fresh SMP in Europe at the moment.
To date, the EU has sold just over 100,000t of the intervention stockpiles accumulated between 2015 and 2017, with 300,000t of SMP remaining in storage.