Hill Farming

Hill farming committee day away

Commodity watch by policy officer, Kellie Rouse

On Tuesday 8 August 2023 the Ulster Farmers’ Union hill farming committee accompanied by policy officer Kellie Rouse and deputy president John McLenaghan, had their day away. The visit included Clonmany Agriculture show and Inishowen uplands demo farm followed by dinner. The committee were extremely fortunate that the visit occurred on a dry summer’s day, after weeks of extreme rain.

Clonmany Agriculture Show is an annual show in Co. Donegal. The site is surrounded by the rolling Donegal mountains and sea, it is the perfect venue for a summer show. The Clonmany show is usually a one-day show but due to increased popularity, it was a two-day event for the first time. The show includes a range of livestock, sheep dog trials, local produce, arts and crafts and range of activities for all ages. Notably this year the show held the ‘2023 All Nations Shearing and Wool Handling Championships’. The hill farming committee had a great day at the show. In particular the addition of the farming, food and nature stand, allowed our committee to attend talks throughout the days on different topics. These included talks on ACRES, restoring soils, biodiversity, forestry and water quality etc.

Following the show, the committee visited Inishowen uplands farm. This demo farm is one of 25 farms from the Inishowen European Innovation Partnership project. The farm is situated close to Redcastle, Co. Donegal. The farm has a Special Area of Conservation on the blanket bog section of the farm. When the EIP project was first started in 2018 the main goal was to increase farm profitability while also delivering on climate change, biodiversity and water quality. The five main measures targeted were upland cattle, agroforestry, diverse swards, red clover and farm ponds.

The farm currently has two ponds installed with a further one planned. The ponds on the farm have many different benefits including habitat creation, water supply, flood mitigation and sediment traps. The farm has also established diverse swards with a mix of white clover, chicory, plantain and perennial grass sown. The farm has seen many advantages including reduced dependency on chemical fertiliser and deep rooting has helped improve soil structure, increased livestock growth rates and anthelmintic properties. However, the farm had issues with weeds such as thistles and docks and found rotational grazing is the best practise to allow regrowth and root structure to develop.

The farm runs a small herd of Black Galloway that are grazed on the hills. The farm uses no fence collars to ensure the hill is grazed effectively and managed correctly. Grazing the upland areas with cattle has shown habitat improvement. Cattle are less selective in their grazing and have eaten down grasses and heathers in areas the sheep would not forage. However due to forages being ate down, sheep are now grazing in these areas again. The cattle graze most of the year out and the farm has found this to be an effective low-cost method of beef production. The farm also has small parts of agroforestry including planting in wet fields, planting in corners of fields and field embankments. Finally, the farm has trialled red clover with benefits including reduced chemical fertiliser usage, improved average daily liveweight gain and improved soil fertility. However, the farm struggled with weed issues mainly dockings and lifespan of the crop.

The hill farming committee finished their day away with dinner in Quaywest. The beef and lamb committee day away is on Wednesday 16 August. The committee will visit Tateetra and Rathmore farms.