ICOS Skillnet, the learning and development division of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS), Dairygold and Teagasc have jointly won an award for a new sustainability training programme that has been developed to guide and support farmers implementing the national Teagasc Signpost Programme.

Supporting farmers to become ‘Champions4Climate’, the programme won the prestigious Pearse Walsh Award at the Irish Institute of Training and Development’s (IITD) National Training Awards.

The ICOS Skillnet training and development programme upskills farmers and their advisers to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to implement climate mitigation, biodiversity enhancement and adaptation practices.

Dairygold co-operative piloted the initiative across 15 pilot farms and this will now be extended across over 2,700 Dairygold farms.

The programme consists of modules aligned to the National Climate Action Plan, as well as the Green Deal, Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies outlined at EU and national levels. Each iteration of the programme is four to six days in duration, run over a number of weeks.

The overall initiative is supported by the Golden Jubilee Trust.

Scaling up

Feedback from the programme’s initial 15 participants has allowed for further tailoring and development, resulting in a final programme which can now be rolled out to the broader agricultural sector.

As it is scaled up nationally by ICOS Skillnet and Teagasc, it is thought that the initiative will benefit over 16,500 farmers with sustainability training over the next five years and onwards.

Head of learning and development at ICOS, Billy Goodburn, said: “This programme equips participants with the necessary knowledge, skills and practical competencies to enact and demonstrate best practice sustainability. It informs, involves and empowers farmers to take ownership of their climate action plan for their own farms.”

Working group

The sustainability training initiative came from a working group of co-operative industry stakeholders. This group established that there was a high demand for collaboratively based sustainability training that would support farmer members of co-operatives, which in turn would have a direct impact on supporting co-operatives to reduce their own carbon footprint.

Head of Teagasc Signpost Programme Dr Tom O’Dwyer said: “Teagasc is delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Dairygold and ICOS, and the participating farmers, to deliver an innovative training programme.

“We are currently exploring how we can build on this experience, and make similar training available to all farmers. The Signpost Programme is committed to supporting all farmers in climate action.”

Head of supply chain at Dairygold Billy Cronin said the co-op is “committed to our sustainability journey” to reducing agriculture emissions, improving water course quality, managing and improving on-farm biodiversity, improving the economic sustainability of the farm enterprise and carbon reduction.

ICOS Skillnet is co-funded by Skillnet Ireland and its member companies. Skillnet Ireland is funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

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