How an environmentally efficient dairy farm can operate at a very high level of production efficiency and profitability will be demonstrated at Shinagh Farm in Bandon, Co Cork.
It has been revealed that the farm already generates environmental emissions significantly below the industry average.
The farm team will now aim to further reduce emissions, by adopting the key technologies which Teagasc says can reduce emissions.
Shinagh was set up in 2011 as a demonstration dairy farm developed by the Bandon, Barryroe, Lisavaird, and Drinagh Co-Ops, Carbery Milk Products Ltd, and Teagasc.
It has shown that a well-managed, grass-based, conversion to a dairy farm can adequately remunerate all of the resources employed, including land, labour and capital.
It has been operated to a very high level of efficiency, with high genetic merit cows and a long grazing season — a combination which kept environmental emissions low.
The new focus at Shinagh is to further reduce emissions.
In 2019, this emphasis has already included a switch to using urea protected with urease inhibitor, instead of CAN, to reduce ammonia emissions.
All slurry is now being applied with low emission slurry spreading equipment.
The crude protein content of any concentrate being fed to grazing cows will also be reduced.
And the farm is replacing the milking machine vacuum pump with a variable speed motor.
All of these technologies should increase the efficiency of the farm operation while reducing the environmental footprint.
Increasing the biodiversity value of the farm is another new aim, along with reducing the carbon footprint of the milk produced, reducing the total ammonia emissions from the farm, and increasing the nitrogen efficiency.
The change of direction reflects the new challenges that the industry faces, of environmental and social sustainability.
Already, Shinagh has been successful at managing the economic risks and challenges associated with a dairy farm conversion, start-up, and expansion, in times of significant volatility in milk price.
These will continue to be significant considerations in the future.
From 2011 to 2018, the number of cows milked increased from 195 to 238.
The stocking rate went from 3.12 to 3.36 livestock units per hectare.
Grass utilised went as high as 13.6 tonnes of dry matter per hectare, in 2017.
The milk solids per hectare has risen from 817 to 1,431 kg.
The farm operated at a loss in 2012, but the cumulative profit to 2018 has reached nearly €500,000.