September 19, 2023

Working with the environment for profitable agriculture

My name is Ciaran Walsh. I am 26 years old and run a beef farm in Silverbridge, County Armagh, in partnership with my parents. We have a small suckler herd and a dairy-based beef business.

I started my apprenticeship with the CAFRE by attending walks on the farm. It was a great opportunity for me to see what was happening on other farms and to learn from others. When Business Development Groups (BDGs) were introduced in 2016, I joined the local Suckler Beef BDG, which brings together a group of farmers in my area. The group is facilitated by our CAFRE advisor Noel McNeill. I am lucky that my parents trust me to run the farm and I think it is important to keep improving and developing my knowledge as much as possible in order to run a successful business.

In addition to joining a BDG, I also enrolled in the Level 4 Diploma in Workplace Agricultural Business Management at CAFRE’s Greenmount campus, which I completed in June 2020. This course was part-time and I could work it around my off-farm job. I really enjoyed the course and learned a lot about all aspects of running a farm business, from business planning to animal health, which I can put into practice at home.

My goal is to farm sustainably and I have started working with our land to improve areas that were not performing as well as they should. Soil sampling from my fields helped me identify soil health issues that needed addressing, and I built up organic matter in the soil by spreading barnyard manure.

I also want to reduce my use of purchased feed through better grassland management, starting with monitoring the health of the soil on my farm.

Through BDGs, I learned that optimal soil pH and using clover is the best way for me to grow more forage.

I introduced paddock grazing to improve forage utilization and also reseeded fields where I felt grass growth was poor.

Our farm was traditionally a purebred beef herd, but we are now focusing on a dairy-based beef system with a small commercial suckler herd.

In 2020, I also joined an environmental farming business development group. This interested me because I already practice environmentally-oriented agriculture. I have introduced the planting of hedges, tree boundaries and water stabilization measures as well as stone walls and I believe the focus on the environment will only increase in the future. Since joining this group, with the help of CAFRE Agri-Environment Advisor Wendy George, we continue to learn the importance of soil health as the basis for caring for the environment and effectively cultivating grasslands.

Through the Suckler Beef BDG I financially assessed my farm and through my Environmental Farming BDG the farm was also carbon benchmarked. Benchmarking provides key performance data for comparison with other benchmark farms, which helps me identify areas for improvement to enable me to farm more efficiently and sustainably in the future.

In the fall of 2021, I also had the opportunity to host BDG training events for my two BDG groups where we discussed Cow Condition Scoring and Floor Health Assessment on my farm.

With the way modern agriculture is changing, I think it’s important to keep learning and growing. CAFRE BDGs give farmers the opportunity to continue to grow through the sharing of knowledge and experience.