Monday 5 December saw the Footprint Farmers meet to take part in a training day in the Heritage Hotel in Killenard, Co Laois.

The event saw many different topics such as the new CAP and schemes, soil fertility, hedgerow management and carbon sampling results. This prompted some interesting discussion from the group, and one topic that caused an interesting debate about the social sustainability of farming.

Sustainable farming encompasses three pillars; environmental, social and economic. However, the importance of social sustainability within farming and the role of the farmer in the community was a topic that drew avid discussion from the group.

Martin Crowe, who is milking cows in Carrigmore, Co Limerick, spoke about how important agricultural contractors are to his business, and how he feels it is important to support the local contractors and the young people that spend their summers working there before they go back to college.

Tillage editor Andy Doyle was in agreement with this, adding that contractors are integral to the success of his business. They cut his crops when he asks them to, and therefore help him achieve optimum yields with minimal losses at harvest.

Andy also shared his top tips on soil fertility on the day and highlighted the damage compaction can do to the soil. An often underestimated machine that can cause serious damage through compaction is a square baler, due to the motion by which it works, according to Andy.

Well-structured soils

Andy explained how compaction affects soil fertility. He explained how if farmers allow their soil to be repeatedly damaged by compaction, it will result in their soil becoming very fragile. Soil compaction results in biological activity, porosity and permeability being reduced due to damage to soil structure.

Ireland’s climate also leaves an increased potential for compaction due to higher rainfall and wet soil conditions. Good structure allows for easier working of a soil, as well as improved water percolation.

Digging down

Andy also mentioned how important it is to dig a pit on the farm, going down about 1.6m, saying that he tells farmers “you buy it by the square metre, you farm it by the cubic metre, but you don’t know what’s in the cube.” Sometimes knowing what is in the cube can help you to manage your land in a way that is beneficial in the long-term.

At the Tullamore Farm open day this year, Andy proved this, giving his demonstration on soil fertility from a pit. The top of the pit was brown, showing that there was organic matter present, however this was followed by a straight metre of sand which was on top of five inches of grey gravel, with 18-20 inches of straight organic matter underneath and then more gravel and a small amount of marl clay.

There had been a small bit of work carried out on reclaiming the river going back 60 years on the farm, and Andy noted that all the soil profile lines were flat, which shows they were all formed by water. It was deduced from this that the river today is in a different place than it had been many years ago. It also allowed him to look at root depth and earthworm activity, which are both important indicators of soil fertility.

The presence of earthworms also has a key role to play in structure regeneration if the soil has been compacted. If there is a digger on-farm, this is a great opportunity for farmers to examine their soil health in more detail.