Sustainability is about meeting our present needs while also preserving the ability of future generations to meet their own.
For farms to be truly sustainable, we must balance environmental, economic and social goals. This involves protecting our natural resources, ensuring profitability, and fostering resilient local communities.
When we can get this balance right, we not only improve our own lifestyles and support thriving rural communities, but we also build a solid foundation for the next generation – giving them the opportunity to discover creative new ways of farming the land sustainably for years to come.
Today, achieving this balance on Irish farms is a big challenge, but it is one that three generations on Footprint Farmer Ciara Kinsella’s farm in Co Wexford are rising to meet. In the 1980s, Ciara’s parents, Frances and John, took over Tykillen Farm, (featured previously in these pages), 26ha of grazing land on the eastern bank of the River Slaney.
Recognising the limitations of deep clay soils, they set about working with, rather than against, the heavy ground. While sheep farming was the primary enterprise, 15 wetter acres were put into forestry. Rather than planting a monocultural crop of conifers, however, Frances and John opted for a diverse mix of native species, meaning that a large portion of the farm is now bordered by a lively native woodland.
Growing up, Ciara and her siblings, Patrick, Shane and Aoife, loved nothing more than to ramble the woodland and to help out on the farm. These early experiences have had a significant impact, as three of the children have returned to Tykillen in recent years, drawn back by their love for the farm and its surroundings.
Ciara, who has trained as a vet, has energetically and creatively taken over the main farm.
While maintaining the lamb enterprise, Ciara has also introduced a sporthorse breeding and training business to the land.
This allows her to pursue her passion for training young horses while benefiting from the complementary nature of the two enterprises.
The mixed grazing system implemented on the farm naturally reduces the parasite load on paddocks, minimising the need for anthelmintics.
Adding to the farm’s diversification, Ciara’s husband Liam has established a honeybee enterprise, and their honey and beeswax products have gained significant popularity both online and within the local community (www.tykillenfarm.ie).
Meanwhile, Aoife has found her creative niche back on the farm after working as an architect for 10 years.
She now operates Wildflower Weddings , sustainably cultivating wildflowers on the home farm, often from seeds collected from freely growing wildflowers found around the farm, which serve as a testament to her parent’s careful management of the land and all of its natural resources.
Patrick, returned to the home farm from Dublin during the COVID-19 pandemic and has played a crucial role in web design and sales models for the honey and wildflower products.
Tykillen Farm stands as a testament to how safeguarding the farm environment can open up diverse opportunities for the next generation
He is now exploring creative opportunities for direct sales of lamb, a venture that could potentially increase profit margins and provide extra economic justification for converting to organic farming next year—an endeavor that the entire family is enthusiastic to explore.
Tykillen Farm stands as a testament to how safeguarding the farm environment can open up diverse opportunities for the next generation to innovate, diversify and embrace modernisation.
As we navigate an era of rapid change, it is impossible to predict the creative ideas our children may bring forth to ensure the future sustainability of our farms.
However, what we can do is take proactive measures today to establish a sustainable foundation for them to build upon in due time.
By adopting such practices, encompassing social, economic and environmental aspects, we not only pave the way for a brighter future but can also reap immediate benefits in our own time.
On Tykillen Farm, the entrepreneurship continues. Discussions at the kitchen table revolve around new approaches in Irish farming, such as agroforestry, continuous cover forestry, organic farming and holistic planned grazing. Cathal and Tadgh, Ciara and Liam’s children, are immersed in discovering the wonders of the natural habitats on the farm, counting butterflies and searching for signs of pine martins in the woodlands.
This week, however, in response to an exceptionally hot and dry early June, the entire family is engaged in a new endeavor—constructing a wildlife pond.
Climate adaptation involves preparing for changing climatic conditions to minimise negative impacts. For example, as summer droughts become more common, many farmers are considering building a wildlife pond as a climate adaptation measure.
Having a pond on your farm is a simple and effective way to store water, while also providing a fantastic habitat for a diverse range of wildlife, including crop boosting pollinators and predatory insects.
With longer periods of dry weather becoming more common in summer, and some farmers even facing dry wells earlier this month in parts of the country, more farmers are deciding wildlife ponds are an easy win in terms of climate adaptation strategies.
Emma Hart is a conservation ecologist with extensive international experience in the design and management of science-based conservation initiatives.
She is the founder of Habitats (www.habitats.ie), an advisory service for farmers, businesses and landowners seeking to enhance space for nature and biodiversity on their lands.
Emma also owns and manages Oysterhaven Biodiversity Reserve, a 50ac reserve, farm and research centre in Co Cork, where, in partnership with State bodies, NGOs and universities, she tests and develops methods in nature restoration and regenerative agriculture.
She is a member of an International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) specialist group and the executive committee for Farming for Nature.
She is also a passionate adventurer, having spent many years leading wildlife conservation and research expeditions in sub-Saharan Africa, often on horseback.