Almost 300 farmers attended Monday's (23 July) Knowledge Transfer (KT) farm walk hosted by Bord Bia and Teagasc in Lahardane, Co. Mayo. The focus of this KT event was Quality Assurance on farms, the first in a series to be jointly hosted by the two State agencies.
Mick Houlihan, Quality Assurance Manager at Bord Bia, said he was very pleased with the success of the first in this series of KT events. "There was a great turnout for this KT event and farmers were very engaged with the presentations. It is a great opportunity to meet farmers face to face and open the conversations around sustainability and why their role is so important. We look forward to continuing those conversations at the upcoming events around the country.
"I would like to thank Teagasc for partnering with us for these events, and also Fergal and his family for hosting us for the inaugural event in Mayo."
Enda Geoghegan, Soils and Environment Advisor, Teagasc said: "Origin Green is the way our food is marketed internationally. If you look around Fergal's farm, you see the quality of both the lambs and the grass, as well as the facilities, and it is clear to see why we chose to hold this event here. This is the first time for our unit that Bord Bia has come on board and it's a great opportunity to share knowledge and get the information out there."
Across five information stations, farmers were reminded of the importance of Quality Assurance auditing on farms to food buyers who choose Irish products, with Quality Assurance auditors on hand to offer advice on how to avoid common errors in preparing for the audit. Important topics included health and safety on farms, remedy use and management, record keeping, and waterway management and pollution. The Gardai were on hand to outline the legislation governing trailer loads and good road safety practices.
Important role of farmers
Speaking on the farm of Fergal Doyle, a sheep and suckler farmer in Tubberavine, Lahardane, Damien Murray, Bord Bia, highlighted the important role farmers play in the global food network. He also explained that, since 2017, farmers participating in the Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme have also been assessed for sustainability. "Over 800 audits are carried out each week, with 51,000 beef and sheep farmer participating in the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme around the country, and 3,300 of them are based in Mayo. Sustainability is the driving force for access to international markets and Origin Green is Ireland putting its best foot forward," Mr Murray said, adding that the KT event was designed to support farmers to better prepare for future audits.
To support that effort, farm walk attendees also received a Quality Assurance Information Booklet, which clearly outlines what is required of farmers to pass their SBLAS audit, providing tips on how to accurately complete records and avoid some commonly made errors.
Comments from Farmers
Speaking after the event, local farmers Tom Hanahoe and David McAndrew said the farm walk had been informative and an important conversation starter. Mr McAndrew from Crossmalina is a BLQAS farmer. He was aware of the introduction of the sustainability assessments as part of Origin Green but found the KT event useful in explaining the importance of it for the industry. "I find the KT group very good, you are meeting other farmers and discovering that you're not the only one to have issues or problems. I always find these evenings very good, as in the knowledge and information you get. It is keeping you up date. I find the quality assurance very good as it means you are keeping your farm and records up to date, and you are keeping the farm safe. I'm married with two young kids and I have the kids with me farming at the weekends or evenings, so you have to keep it safe. I am also better informed about Origin Green after this evening."
Meanwhile, Mr Hanahoe said the event was a worthwhile reminder of the importance of record keeping and compliance in remedy, fertiliser and spray use. "An event like this highlights the importance of using sprays correctly, and the importance of maintaining our records in relation to sprays and fertiliser." While sustainability isn't always to the fore in conversation among farmers, Mr Hanahoe believes that will change in the future. "It will have to change because we have to keep our records in order and our water right."