Space for nature on dairy farms while retaining a profitable business was one of the key take-home messages from the Farm Zero C open day at Shinagh dairy farm, near Bandon, Co Cork.
Ecologist for the project Cian White said: "Agricultural landscapes are working landscapes, but it’s possible for them to have 10% habitat without compromising on production. That 10% is the target for Teagasc Signpost farms too."
Stating that the habitat area on the 250-cow farm owned by the west Cork co-ops was 7.5% when the project began, he gave examples of what was done to enhance biodiversity since 2020.
"We’ve increased it and the strategy we’ve used is to prioritise win-wins between production and habitat.
"First of all, we focused on non-farmed areas. Any bit of waste or rubble around the farm, we flattened those and created habitats. By doing that, we got 0.2 or 0.3ha.”
These included allowing wild flowers to grow in the area surrounding the milking parlour, scrub was left untouched and a new hedgerow was planted along one of the main farm roadways.
It was essentially a wetland already, but it wasn’t being counted, so we just pulled the fence out around it
“After that, we looked at the least productive areas of the farm. We created a new wetland and that is from the wettest part of pasture on the farm.
"This was a wet area of 0.3ha in a paddock that was rushy and tractors were unable to go in there throughout the year.
"It was essentially a wetland already, but it wasn’t being counted, so we just pulled the fence out around it.”
The final action which pulled in another 0.5ha is some pasture that will be left as semi-natural grassland.
“It might be cut for silage, but it won’t be reseeded and will be a species-rich grassland.
"As a result of these actions alone, the farm habitat percentage has reached 8.64% of the total area of the farm and is well on course to achieve the 10% area by the end of the decade.”
The final measure that could take the farm up to 10% will be the replacing of a 0.8ha Sitka spruce plantation. The aim is to convert that over to native woodland, availing of the native woodland grant.
Over 600 people attended the open day on Friday last to hear updates from the Farm Zero C programme, a joint initiative between Carbery, Teagasc and UCD, with funding from Science Foundation Ireland.