Father and son duo Michael and Norman Dunne have been chosen as the Farming for Nature People’s Choice awards winner for 2021.

The tillage farmers from Maynooth, Co Kildare, run a 400ac farm where they have introduced a regenerative farming system operating under the principles of conservation agriculture.

One of the Irish Farmers Journal’s group of From the Tramlines farmers, the pair grow beans, oats, barley and wheat for the animal feed market as well as producing hay for horses.

Participants of the Danú EIP Project and members of BASE Ireland, their focus has been on regenerating soil biology and reducing external inputs where possible on the farm.

Cereal crops are grown on the land using minimal disturbance methods like direct drilling and min-till. Crop rotations and permanent organic soil cover systems are in place.

In addition, multispecies cover crops are used to build soil fertility and enhance soil structure, all the while providing a food source for pollinating insects.

Norman is also experimenting with Biodynamic preparations and Korean Natural Farming methods to enhance the soil biology and to inoculate seeds before sowing – “You're getting the seeds off to the best possible start that you can give them by inoculating it with something biological rather than something chemical. It encourages with the bond between the seed and the soil. It’s a natural defence from pathogens. It’s like colostrum for a baby.”

Since the reintroduction of regenerative farming methods on the land, there has been a significant increase in biodiversity and a return of numerous bird species to the farm - “Biodiversity has exploded on the land here in the past three or four years. There are birds here now that I have never seen on the farm before,” says Norman.

Norman and Michael have enjoyed seeing the return of barn owls, skylarks, sparrow hawks, kestrels, buzzards, woodpeckers, wood pigeons, lapwings, yellowhammers and more.