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An unusual love affair with the land - Origin Green dairy farmer interview
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An unusual love affair with the land - Origin Green dairy farmer interview

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When dairy farmer Joe Hayden talks about the land, there is undeniable passion and eloquence in his voice. He and his brother Michael are the fourth-generation of Haydens to farm 135ha near Tinahely.
When dairy farmer Joe Hayden talks about the land, there is undeniable passion and eloquence in his voice. He and his brother Michael are the fourth-generation of Haydens to farm 135ha near Tinahely.

Joe Hayden, Killaveney, Tinahely, Co Wicklow

‘‘When my parents got engaged, my grandmother was brought to walk the land and commented to my mother that the only thing missing was dairy cows. Eleven cows and a bucket plant milking machine were followed shortly after the wedding.’’ And so began a successful dairy enterprise that has continued to serve the family well. My mother had a simple philosophy, Joe says: ‘‘You mind the cows and the cows will mind you.’’

It’s clear that Joe’s connection to his family heritage is strong. He can trace it back to September 1865, when his great-grandfather became a tenant farmer on the Fitzwilliam Estate. Ownership of the land was officially passed to the Haydens in 1905 under the Land Commission and Joe still has possession of the original transferral documents.

But the connection doesn’t stop there. Joe talks passionately about the complexity of the relationship between the farmer and the land that is embedded in hundreds of years of culture and heritage. He describes it as ‘‘an unusual love affair with the land that is rock solid’’.

‘‘This is the language I grew up hearing as a child’’ he says. ‘‘My parents always spoke of what it means to own the family land and the responsibility that goes with it.’’

He tells the story of once being asked when the need for sustainability became an issue on his farm. ‘‘September 1865’’ was the answer he gave. ‘‘Four generations of my family have left an imprint of sustainability on this land’’ Joe says. ‘‘We are trustees of the farm and it’s not ours to abuse. The sustainable challenge is to make money, produce good food and respect those values we were brought up with.

‘‘Sustainability in Irish farming didn’t start with Origin Green, but what Origin Green has done is to provide a scientific way of recognising those values and beliefs. It can now measure what we couldn’t put figures on. The carbon navigator in particular not only helped us to reduce our carbon emissions on the farm, but it showed us how reaching the targets set for each category provided a direct financial gain.’’

Joe describes five key factors that contributed to reducing carbon emissions on his farm:

  • The ability to grow grass efficiently to allow cows to graze outside for up to 300 days per year.
  • Using off-peak electricity to make the milk cooling system more energy-efficient.
  • Soil testing to optimise fertiliser use.
  • Efficient slurry management.
  • Using science to breed cows with significantly increased fat and protein content.
  • ‘‘It’s the robustness of the independent auditing scheme that gives people like me confidence,’’ Joe says.

    ‘‘Farming is really a story of survival, and one of our great strengths in Ireland is the collaborative nature of our industry, from our dairy discussion groups, to Teagasc research and the support we get from our co-op.’’

    Proud to be part of Origin Green

    Sustainability is now part of the entry criteria in every sector and every marketplace in which the Irish food industry competes. Bord Bia’s Origin Green is the only sustainability programme in the world to operate at a national scale, showcasing Irish produce in global and home markets. Origin Green verified members account for more than 90% of Ireland’s total food and drink exports.

    Irish farmers who are certified members of the Bord Bia Quality Assurance schemes and who participate in a farm sustainability survey as part of the audit process, are part of Origin Green.

    Bord Bia’s Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) is the world’s first national dairy sustainability scheme, allowing dairy farmers to measure their continuous improvement of efficiencies and sustainability practices.

    Bord Bia also recently launched the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS), expanding the well-established Quality Assurance standards to include sustainability criteria.

    At farm level, the Origin Green sustainability programme now operates across the Irish dairy, beef and lamb sectors with plans to broaden it to pigmeat, poultry, eggs, horticulture and grain.

    Preserving the farm for the future

    Origin Green farmers are discovering that the efficiencies that come from farming sustainably and caring for the environment, have benefits in terms of preserving their farm and land for future generations as well as contributing to the profitability of their farm enterprise.

    For details, visit www.bordbia.ie/farmersorigingreen

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