The importance of marrying environmental sustainability with profitability on farms was a key message from a commercial dairy farmer at the annual Farming for Nature gathering.
Gearoid Maher, a Farming for Nature and National Dairy Council (NDC) ambassador, has environmentally positive measures implemented on his high-performing dairy farm.
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal at the event, Maher said farms with an environmental focus must be profitable if other farmers are to follow suit.
“If you have a farm and it’s a nature [conscious] farm, but if that farm is not a productive nature [conscious] farm, no one is going to listen to you. That’s the reality. People have to live off the land, they have to make a profit,” he said.
“If a farm isn’t profitable with nature [positive measures] on the farm, no one is going to take any heed of it. No one is going to listen to you,” he added.
From Co Limerick, Maher doesn’t cut hedgerows, lets weeds grow, leaves margins and has almost eliminated chemical fertiliser use through soil sampling.
Maher, who also works as a farm adviser, supplies Dairygold. He won a quality milk award and his herd is just below the top 10% of herds in the co-op in terms of performance.
The willingness to implement biodiversity measures on farms, Maher said, is “a mindset thing”.
“At times, I think other farmers see me as being a lazy farmer, because my hedgerows aren’t straight and there are a lot of weeds under fences,” he said.
“I’ve always gone with the line that we still punch above our weight. We’re a heavy farm and we’re above the co-op average.
“We’re a progressive farm, but not at the expense of the environment. When you hold a farm walk you feel like your inferior because the place looks a bit untidy. Nature is untidy and we just have to accept that.”
Maher was part of a panel discussion entitled ‘Building resilience: adapting to a rapidly changing world’ at the Farming for Nature gathering.
A further farmer panel discussed the role farming plays in the social sustainability of rural communities.
Tommy Earley, a mixed stock farmer from Co Roscommon, said Social Farming is one of the best uses his farm has been put to.
“You can see the change in people after they have been visiting for a few weeks. They’re reconnecting with the land and reconnecting with nature,” Earley added.
“There are an awful lot of benefits [from Social Farming] that are hard to put a monetary value on. It’s certainly working.”