The economic and environmental sustainability of rural Ireland was at the heart of this year’s RDS Spring Awards.
Seventeen awards highlighted some of the best examples of sustainable farmers, foresters, and farming enterprises.
They recognised and rewarded farmers and woodland owners who employ the principles of climate-smart agriculture, with sound, commercial management alongside environmental protection and encouragement of biodiversity.
The RDS is Ireland’s Philanthropic Society, founded in 1731 and continuing its mission through philanthropic work that spans across science, the arts, agriculture, business and equestrianism.
At the awards presentation, RDS chief executive Michael Duffy said: "This year, we took additional steps to incorporate climate-smart agriculture into the RDS Spring Awards to better reflect the changes that agriculture needs, to ensure sustainable living and sustainable farming in rural Ireland.”
As the awards, including a €23,000 prize fund, were presented, there was a poignant moment, as Jane Drohan, from Scrahan, Kilmacthomas Co Waterford, accepted the RDS-ICBF Beef Herd Award.
She was accepting on behalf of her husband Patrick who died in a tragic accidental fall while working on the farm late last year.
The award recognises the best use of genomics and beef data on farms.
Patrick was a prominent suckler farmer in the south-east region, actively involved in the Teagasc Better Farm Beef Programme.
He hosted various farm walks on his land, helping others to learn from his experience.
Genomics is an example of the best application of science in farm practice, which also featured in the EBI awards for dairy herds.
The EBI (Economic Breeding Index) is a single figure profit index to help farmers identify the most profitable bulls and cows for breeding dairy herd replacements.
But it’s not just about profit.
A €20 EBI increase can lead to a 3% reduction in carbon footprint, due to the greater efficiency of the herd in the form of improved fertility and survival.
The RDS Economic Breeding Index Award for 2019 went to Liam Leahy, Bridelands, Crookstown, Co Cork.
Liam’s cow, Bridestream Lily 1391, is the highest EBI genotyped cow currently in Ireland, with an EBI of €312.
This is not Liam’s first time to be recognised by the RDS, with his home-bred “Lily” cow family receiving the Economic Breeding Index Award previously in 2013.
Michael Bradley, Coolderry, Kilmichael, Macroom, Co Cork won the 2019 RDS Dairy Herd Award.
Michael’s herd has the best combination performance of EBI, at €183, calving interval of 368 days, and a six-week calving rate of 89%, based on herds which are members of HerdPlus and are genotyping young dairy females.
The way to sustainability in sheep farming is also to identify the best genetics for efficient farming, through schemes like the LambPlus breed improvement programme.
This why the 2019 RDS Spring Awards included LambPlus awards for the first time.
And the winners were Jim and Frampton Jeffrey, Midleton, Co Cork, for their Bawnard flock.
This award is for the best pen of rams at the annual Elite LambPlus Multibreed Ram sale, which is open to all Sheep Ireland LambPlus breeders.
For this award, Sheep Ireland ranked each pen of rams by their average replacement index, and by their average sale price.
At the end of this process, the Jefferys’ three Suffolk rams came out on top.
Over the past 55 years, commercial efficiency has been at the forefront of the breeding programme in the Bawnard flock of Suffolk sheep.
Jim and Frampton are strong advocates for breeding from superior genetics to gain efficiency and sustainability.
There was even more recognition of the sustainability of farming in Co Cork at the RDS Spring Awards.
Leahy’s Open Farm, Dungourney, Co Cork was awarded the 2019 Talamh Sustainable Living Award.
The Leahys transformed their holding from dairy and pig production to an agri-tourism model, first opening to the public in 1996, displaying Eddie Leahy’s collection of vintage farm machinery, as well as turning a profit with the help of Eileen Leahy’s home bakery skills.
The enterprise has become so popular that it now provides full-time employment for a number of their children, which is something that that traditional farming model would have been unable to do.
All award winners received an RDS trophy, an RDS Silver Medal, and a cheque for €2,000. Runners up received a certificate of merit and a cheque for €1,000.
The RDS Agri-Innovation Award went to Smart Farming, the Irish Farmers Association programme on ways to improve farm returns and enhance the rural environment.
It has been welcomed by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton as a great example of how agriculture can take the lead on sustainability, by showing how careful management of resources can reap both financial and environmental rewards for farmers.
In 2018, the average farm in the programme saved €7,170, while reducing their emissions by 9%.
IFA President Joe Healy said,
EPA Director General Laura Burke added, “Increased greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture present a clear challenge, representing around one third of our total national emissions.
”The approaches and innovations identified in Smart Farming demonstrate that energy efficiency gains and reduced emissions are achievable on the participating farms.
“The future success of this ambitious programme will be to mainstream implementation of these measures through wide and willing take-up by the farming community.”
Converting land from livestock use to forestry is not a decision to be taken lightly.
But Gerard Deegan was recognised by the RDS for his brave and successful move into forestry in 2012, when he was presented with the 2019 RDS/Forest Service/Teagasc Farm Forestry Award.
Gerard Deegan, Co Westmeath won first place in the @TheRDS - @agriculture_ie Teagasc Farm Forestry Award. Congratulations Gerard. Well done from all of us at @teagasc #RDSSpring 🌳🌲👍🏆 pic.twitter.com/Xt6I4jihz5— Teagasc Forestry (@teagascforestry) April 24, 2019
Gerard planted 75% of his 145-acre farm at Cooksborough, Co Westmeath, with mixed woodland, and is now reaping the rewards of this decision.
He had previously been involved in organic dairy production, and a calf-to-beef system.
He says, “For the first time in my life, I feel that I am in charge of my time.
“Since planting trees, I feel my workload is more manageable, and I can now fully appreciate and enjoy what my farm has to offer”.
There are benefits for others too, through his involvement with Social Farming Ireland.
Ailbhe Gerrard was also awarded a 2019 Talamh Sustainable Farming Award.
At a time when one of the sustainability threats is that more people are leaving farming than going into it, Ailbhe is a recent entrant.
She bought a farm near her family home on the Tipperary side of Lough Derg, in 2010.
She became very busy, producing organically certified lamb, honey, conventional tillage crops, and tending a native woodland and broadleaf plantation.
Hivegifts was set up in 2015, an on-farm craft business that has significantly increased the farm’s revenue.
And Ailbhe’s Brookfield Farm visitor experience welcomes the public for educational farm walks and talks, and candle-making demonstrations.
The next phase of development envisages allowing more visitors to take part in candle-making.
The sustainability spotlight is also on water, so it was fitting the Community Woodlands Award went Irish Water and Dublin City Council jointly, for the Vartry Reservoir.
Local volunteers deserve credit also.
They have become involved in development of the local woodland, which now serves as an excellent example of the NeighbourWood scheme run by the Department of Agriculture.
RDS/Forest Service Production Fores Award:
Irish Forestry Unit Trust Clonad Woodlands, Co Offaly
RDS/Forest Service Multipurpose Forestry Award:
Coillte Teoranta Cratloe Woods, Co Limerick
RDS/ICBF Euro-Star Replacement Index Award:
Henry Noel O’Connor, Co Roscommon
Ceres Sustainability Champion Award:
Self Help Africa