Farmer Focus: Environmental farming high in 2020 priorities

December allowed us to wind down and cover just the basics with bedding and feeding while the cows are dry.

A lot of time was taken up with carol services, nativity plays, dropping in on neighbours to thank them for help over the year, family visits, forest walks and Santa.

Once 30 December hit, it’s like the battery pack light switched from red to green and we were fully charged for the year ahead, armed with a to-do list of priorities.

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The important bit of retrospective analysis is just being completed as I tally financial performance for 2019.

A key performance indicator is our cost per kilo of milk solids, which reflects our profit, and being a grass-based system this is closely linked to the tons of grass dry matter used per hectare.

Our herd produced 410kg of milk solids a cow over the year, with an average milk price of 35p/litre on a once-a-day milking system system.

Areas for improvement will be identified now, with a number of actions put in place to work on for 2020.

Increasingly, the environment is playing a bigger role in how we view our farming practices.

First, we will look to improve nitrogen use efficiency and then increase biodiversity with new hedges.

A voluntary water quality scheme has just begun on our local river and we will engage with this as it progresses over the year.

With greater rainfall intensity over the past 10 years, one of the streams that borders the farm has unfortunately rerouted itself.

It used to run within a dense thicket of hedge and trees, which protected and filtered over-ground rain flow during heavy precipitation, but instead has divided and cut a secondary channel along the end of a grass field.

With this new scheme, we can hopefully get advice on the best course of action.

It may be we plant a riparian strip around it or look to divert the stream to its original path.

Despite what many urban dwellers think, as a farmer, I believe it’s important to inform ourselves as best we can on how we can interact with our environment in a positive way.  

Gillian O’Sullivan is a dairy farmer from southern Ireland. Read more.