Grass management root of success on Cashel dairy farm
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.’
Find out more at www.bordbia.ie/farmers.