Brad and I had the privilege to be the only two Americans at the European Forum for Agriculture and Rural Advisory Services (EFRAS). The conference lasts from June 20-23 hosted by TEAGASC in Limerick. The group is made up of 20 different European countries. With different languages being used, we had to wear translators at different times. The speakers spoke about the European Union’s policies, issues, Irish Agriculture, and other related topics.
That evening we enjoyed a lively banquet with a strong Irish flare!! There was candles, music, good food, and lively conversations.
On Sunday, we traveled on our way to Limerick!! It was about a 5 hour drive from Buncrana in Donegal. We had a lovely lunch with Tommy’s family before heading out!!
On Saturday, Brad and I traveled to visit the Giants Causeway! The geologic formation is beautiful and has many myths tied to it including Giants!! I also got a crash course in public transportation by taking 2 trains and 5 buses!
Our Friday was spent primarily visiting the TEAGASC staff in Donegal. Brad and I presented on Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Agriculture, and our job. We also learned about TEAGASC and their programs.
We also were able to travel to see the more of Donegal and compare the differences in terrain. The mountains of Donegal remind me of much of our land in Virginia. The mountains focus on Mountain HIll Sheep and deal with a lot of non desirable species including heather.
We were able to stop in Arada and visit a weaver based there. At one time, the area was dominated by weavers making tweed.
We then made our way to Malin Head, which is the most northern part of Ireland. It also is where they filmed the ending of the latest Star Wars film. The area is very rural with sheep and cows grazing up to the ocean.
We then went to look at turf (peat) being harvested and wind turbines. Ireland has a constant wind and many wind turbines have been installed in the countryside. Many homes harvest their own turf to heat their homes in the winter.
We started our morning visiting a ring fort that was built by the Celtics. The fort was used as an outlook post. Donegal is beautiful from this view!!
We then met with Gary Fisher, TEAGASC Advisor who focuses on Beef Production. We went onto the farm of Johnny Weir who is considered a drystock operator (stocker operator). He buys Fresian steers at one year old and grazes them for another year with around 130 calves on 50 acres. They spend their last 100 day finishing with concentrate feed of barley, soybean meal, and maize (corn). Johnny also had several acres of grass sillage down. In Ireland, dry hay is rare due to the weather.
The next farm is entrolled in a TEAGASC Program called BETTER Farm. BETTER stands for Business, Environment Technology through Training Extension Research. Charles Crawford has 45.8 ha (113.17 acres) and raises suckler cows (cow-calf operation) and sheep. Being enrolled in the Better Farm program, Charles’ farm was analyzed for a baseline in 2012. Goals where set for the farm with the overall goal to increase the income of the farm at certain levels. In 2012, the farm had gross margin of 503 euro per ha. With changes made in 2015, the gross margin had changed to 750 euro per ha. Changes included using the EURO Star and AI programs. Euro Star uses genomics to assess his cow herd and profitability of each cow. As a result, cow type has been slowly changing on his farm from less meaty traits to more maternal traits. In Ireland, calf birth weight is higher causing lot calving problems. They are now trying to breed more maternal traits into their herd for milk production and calving ease. However for their market, they need a heavy muscled calf and receive a premium for this type of calf. Therefore, mature cows are kept and then crossed again with a charolais.
Lastly, we visited the farm of Raymond Palmer who has been in discussion groups for almost 20 years and he allows TEAGASC to bring out young agriculture students to his farm to do a mock discussion group. Raymond has worked hard on his herd and exceeds targets for farms in Ireland. Raymond has 42 ha (103 acres) with 52 cows. He finishes all heifers born on the farm till slaughter, but sells all males as bull at 10 months old. His number of calves per cow is .95 compare to the national average of .82 and had no mortality this year. He actually had two sets of twins this year. Each calf born in Ireland is tagged and records are assessable nation wide for all animals. Raymond personally has all his records for the last 30 years. WIth a national system of records, national inventory and trends are easy to establish. It also makes it easier for TEAGASC to work with their farmers.
As many of you know, I have a great interest in forestry. Tommy was able to arrange for Brad and I to meet several farmers who have put in forestry practices on their farms. We met Steven Meyens with TEAGASC who is the Area Forestry Specialist at the farm of Charlie Doherty. Charlie has 250 acres in Sitka spruce plantations and another 250 acres in potatoes, grains, and cattle. In 1916 when Ireland gained independence, the country was less then 1% tree cover. Now with many initiatives, Ireland has around 11 % tree cover. Farmers receive compensation for putting marginal land into forestry. Charlie also just had planted 5 ha of bird feed that he will receive a payment of about 900 euro/ha with a limit of no more than 5000 euro to each farmer for this practice.
Growing pains for this relatively new industry is not enough contractors to harvest logs and limited marketing for smaller trees. As a result, many farmers have come together to create a cooperative to further marketing and growing potential. At our next stop, we met with John Jackson who is the leader of the cooperative and developed his own firewood business.
Our last visit was with Ralph & Liz Sheppard who put in forestry practices mainly for their concern for biodiversity in Ireland and love of nature. The couple mainly focused on hardwood trees and native species. They keep a count of the insects and birds who ultilize their forests. In addition, Ralph has established a planting of hazel that he markets to crafters. The hazel is coppiced (cut and allowed shoots to grow back) allowing for a crop about every 7 to 8 years.
We ended our evening meeting Teagasc Adviosrs, Seamus and Andy, who were starting a new discussion group for sheep producers. The groups have 12-18 farmers in them and they meet on each other farmers to discuss problems and solutions to issues. One issue discussed was the fact that the EU was not in favor of producers receiving payments for those who graze land with heather. Some of the land in Dunegal is mountainous and heather is common.
We started our day meeting a Ph.D. Student name David. David has been working on feeding trials for Irish systems. These systems are from 15 month to 29 month systems of finishing cattle. In contrasts in the US, we are looking at around 18 months start to finish with corn being are main supplement given. In Ireland, they try their best to finish primarily on grass. We then went and met another Advisor name John. John works for Teagasc, but also helps with his family farm that has been in operation for 9 generations. The farm raises wheat, barley, oats, rape (canola), and potatoes. They focus primarily on niche markets with early potatoes and raise grains to fit high demand and low supply windows.
Before leaving Wexford, we walked the grounds of the castle and toured the Irish Agriculture Museum. Cough cough……Virginia needs an agriculture museum…..cough. The exhibit on the potato famine was fabulous. Looking at that statistics presented, I can’t help thinking about the upcoming world population and need to feed them all!! The grounds had so many interesting plants from all over. Brad and I found our favorite called Brazilian Rhubarb!!
We then traveled to County Carlow to visit a truly more traditional farm or not progressive as they liked to tell us. Their houses is known to be the oldest existing thatch cottage in Ireland and dates back to the mid 1500s. The walls where 18 inches to 24 inches thick. The house has been in Phyllis’s family throughout that entire time. Phyllis and her husband, Tom, both love to tell you about their house and natural farm practices. They used to raise purebred Herefords and love nature. They are both characters and we throughly enjoyed our visit with them!!
Finally, we finished our evening driving up to the top of Ireland to Donegal. We spent the evening listening to a lot of American Country Music in the hotel pub! Who knew that Ireland loves the songs Country Roads and Wagon Wheel.
We finally were able to experience true Irish weather and break out our rain coats! We met Eddie who is an advisor in Wexford. He took us to one of Teagasc’s Catchment Locations. The Catchment program has been in existence since 2008 and basically studying the water quality and land use of watersheds. Stream water from the catchment is constantly monitored by equipment for nitrates and phosphorus loads. Researchers can access the results remotely from their lab. In addition, deep wells are also sampled on an interval and samples tested in the lab. Advisors work with farmers on their nutrient management and the treatment of the land.
From the catchment site, we traveled to meet Joe Doyle who is a tillage (crop) and dairy farmer. Joe is new to dairying and is only in his 3 year of milking. He uses a robotic milker and milks 62 cows. We walked through his pasture management. Working with a new system, Joe has been able to ultilize the advantage of being able to lay out a system and not live with existing infrastructure. Joe also grows malting barley!
Our afternoon was spent on Kearns Fruit Farm with Dr. Damon Kehoe, Jimmy Kearns, and his family!! The family focuses primarily on strawberry production with high tunnels and glass greenhouses being utilitied. In Virignia, we primarily use plastic culture. Personally, I was shocked by the level of production and the system used.
We spent our evening eating Fish and Chips at a seaside restaurant in Wexford and then touring the castle at Johnstown. Teagus owns the castle and at one time used it for office space and labs. The castle dates back to the 1500s. The 1,000 acres surrounding the castle is a research farm for Teagus and offices.
After spending the night in Athenry, Brad, Tommy, and I went to visit the famous Galway Promenade! Very beautiful views of the Atlantic!!
From there, we traveled to meet Phil Bracken’s cousin, Martina, and her family!! Phil Bracken and his family run My Shepherd Farm in Rural Retureat, Virginia, but Phil is orginially from Ireland. Tommy and David where able to meet Phil and tour his farm in Virginia on their visit. Martina’s family farms in Offaly County. They focus on sheep and suckler cows (cow-calf operation). In Ireland, the dominate breeds are continentals mainly Charolais and Limousine.
Ever wonder where the peat in your soil-less media comes from? Apparently, a lot of it comes from Ireland! We were able to stop and look at a small peat mine.
We took the scenic route to see Tipperary and the country side. On our way we stop by a castle build in 1209!! We ate a lovely dinner at Kilkenny and finally made it to Wexford to start our next leg of the trip.
After an 8 hour flight, Brad, Tommy, David, and I all arrived in Ireland safely. we spent our first day on Friday, June 10, primarily getting over the change in time. Yesterday, we went to the 1916 Farm Life and Culture Event being hosted by Teagasc at the Athenry Research Farm. The event had proximately 50,000 people to celebrate 100 year anniversary of their independence!! Participants where able to see what life was like at that time with everything from plowing with horses to school house.
We was even able to find some good Virginia technology at the event!! Look familiar?
We also were able to learn about a few things that we never heard of!! A loy is basically a spade with a wedge to plow by hand. The wedge does most of the work. In Ireland, small farmers didn’t have horses they could use to plow their field. They would use the loy. They would basically roll the turf over and create a furrow to plant their potatoes in. In Ireland, they hold competitions for using the Loy. Brad and I were able to gain insight on this from John Bolling who was 2013 Champion!!
That evening we spent our time in Galway looking at shops and architecture of the city.