Ireland has a strong international reputation as a supplier of sustainably produced food and drink. However, the Irish agri-food industry, including farmers, is challenged to become even more sustainable over the coming decade. This will require an even greater focus by farmers on caring for the environment and making space for nature, while continuing to produce high-quality food and drink.

While each farmer will have to identify and implement the best solution for their farm business, a range of possible solutions are known.

The Teagasc Advisory Service is ready to help farmers develop tailored solutions for their farm.

Steps to improving your farm’s sustainability performance

Teagasc recommends a range of good farming practices that will enable farmers and growers to reduce gaseous emissions, protect and improve water quality, restore and enhance biodiversity, while also contributing to farm profitability.

1 Know your farm’s sustainability numbers

The starting point for any farmer on the journey to becoming more sustainable is to establish their farm’s numbers, or current performance. This includes yield per cow, average daily gain, kg of beef sold per hectare and profitability-related indicators like gross margin per hectare or net profit.Increasingly, farmers will have to understand new indicators, including greenhouse gas emissions, ammonia emissions, nutrient balance, nutrient use efficiency and biodiversity scores.

2 Identify opportunities to improve farm sustainability

There are many opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, capture carbon, reduce nutrient losses, improve water quality and enhance biodiversity – the potential will depend on the type of farm and your current practices. No two farms are exactly the same, so it follows that the solution will be different for each farm.

Technologies and practices which can lead to improved sustainability are listed below:

  • Protected urea.
  • Lime.
  • Correction of soil P and K deficiencies.
  • LESS equipment.
  • Timing of slurry application.
  • Reduced fertiliser N application rates.
  • Better grassland management/ use of PastureBase.
  • Clover.
  • Adequate slurry storage.
  • Improved herd health.
  • Breeding better/more efficient animals (EBI/ DBI/ CBV/four and five star sires).
  • Optimum replacement rate.
  • Field margins.
  • Buffer strips.
  • Side trimming of escaped hedges.
  • Retention or planting thorn saplings/flowering trees.
  • 3 Keep records, monitor and review

    Record-keeping is essential to inform future decision-making and to allow for the calculation of farm sustainability metrics over time.

    Checking that the actions you have chosen are making a positive impact on all factors of sustainability is essential.