UFU representatives attend resilience for dairy farm visits

Ulster Farmers’ Union policy manager James McCluggage and UFU dairy chair Cyril Orr, visited France last week along with other Northern Ireland dairy industry representatives, as part of the Resilience For Dairy (R4D).

R4D is one of the most recent European projects to contribute to the social, economic, and environmental development of dairy farming.

R4D focuses on three knowledge areas to enhance dairy farms’ sustainability:

  1. Economic and social resilience
  2. Technical efficiency
  3. Environment, animal welfare and society-friendly production systems.

The participants of the project are working together on improving business and operational strategies for dairy farms, as well as stimulating positive interactions between farming communities and society. They are searching for the most effective and innovative techniques to tackle the challenges of improving animal welfare, increasing biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and lowering dairying’s environmental footprint. To increase the resilience and robustness of dairy farms, R4D proceeds through different steps. From finding tailored solutions for different farms, to training sessions and e-learning webinars, the project participants from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Slovenia and Spain, cooperate to try out different models and develop a number of solutions.

As part of the trip, there were seminars and visits to two farms in the Northwest of France. The first farm was a 70-cow dairy herd. The farmer and wife built a dairy unit and milking parlour in 2012. In 2016 they converted to organic farming and moved to 100% grass-based system. They have moved to group all calving over nine weeks in springtime. They milk once a day and don’t milk the cows for 2 ½ months in the year.  In winter they aim to work limited hours. They believe their grass-based system contributes to limit their environmental impact by reducing their GHG emission. They aim to communicate widely, highlighting their quality of life, the excellent economic results, and the low environmental impact of the system. By reaching out to nonfarmers in particular, they hope to make the farming profession more attractive.

The second farm visit milked 53 cows. The farm was set up in 2018 and started as an organic dairy farm. They also have an orchard on the farm bottling 10,000 bottles of cider per year. The dairy herd is producing 5700l/cow/year. 302,000l produced per year for a dairy co-op.  245 days/ year of grazing. The farm wants to be less independent on the input prices by diversifying their income and the cider business. They also want to test new fodders such as rapeseed, ryegrass, clover, and alfalfa.

The take-home message from the French farmers involved was ‘work less, earn more’.  At a government subsidy of almost 1000 euros per cow by going organic, the dairy industry in that particular part of France looked and felt like a different dairy industry than that in NI. It certainly provided plenty of food for thought.