Grass management the root of success on Cashel dairy farm

Real results on Golden family farm

Grass management the root of success on Cashel dairy farm

Edwin Thompson at work on his dairy farm

Edwin Thompson runs a dairy enterprise in partnership with his father John and wife Diane in Golden, Cashel.

The enterprise has expanded to 140 cows on about 70ha of their own land, as well as 20ha of leased land.

The oldest of four children, Edwin always had a passion for farming. His earliest memories are of feeding calves or making hay, surrounded by cousins and friends. “I could never imagine myself doing anything else,” he says. After school, Edwin completed a Higher National Diploma in the University of Aberystwyth, Wales and then spent time in New Zealand. He met his wife Diane in 1997 at the Dundrum Macra club. They have three boys, Marcus aged ten and twins Karl and Luke aged eight.

Dairy farmers who are certified members of the Bord Bia Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) and who participate in a farm sustainability survey as part of their audit are part of Origin Green.

SDAS and the carbon navigator allow Origin Green farmers to measure and benchmark their sustainability practices, helping them to identify efficiencies which they can improve on their own farm, which can also improve profitability.

Key improvement measures on dairy farms taking part in SDAS and the sustainability survey include: Increased Economic Breeding Index (EBI), longer grazing season, improved nitrogen use efficiency, improved slurry management and energy efficiency.

As a member of Origin Green, Edwin talks about the benefits of the SDAS scheme in helping him to benchmark his farm against others. “The carbon navigator enables us to compare and measure our performance, so we know the areas where we’re doing well and where we need to improve,” says Edwin.

Good grass management has yielded real results on the Thompson farm. “Grass feed is the most cost efficient there is. If we can maximise that, we can improve our efficiencies all round,” says Edwin. “Our focus is always to get our cows out as much as we can; and to get grass into the system as much as we can.” Edwin’s cows are grazing outside from mid-February to mid-November, with on/off grazing in between to protect the soil.

Edwin measures his grass every week. “The biggest advantage of measurement is knowing the growth,” he says. “Once growth exceeds demand, we bale it for silage. If it goes below demand, we know we have to give supplement feed to fill the gap,” says Edwin. “Nine out of ten years we have produced enough silage ourselves. Home grown silage is the most economical and best. A good quality round bale is hard to beat.”

Edwin says that ten years ago, he was only growing 10-11 tonnes of grass dry matter in a season. “Currently we are growing about 15 tonnes of grass dry matter in a season. This means we have successfully increased the number of stock that we carry, but have been feeding much the same level of meals.

“In terms of profitability, SDAS and the carbon navigator also helps you to monitor costs and to work out a plan for your own farm. For example, when we buy in dairy nuts, we work out how the cows will react and what the cost will be. It’s all about the sums and anything that helps you with that is of benefit. It also focuses the mind on the importance of traceability and herd health, particularly when it comes to dosing our stock and putting a plan in place that works for us.

“Milk protein has certainly improved over the last 10 years increasing from 3.55% to 3.66% which obviously leads to a much increased milk price.

Edwin is the fourth generation of Thompsons to farm the land at Golden. Edwin’s parents John and Marion, live alongside them on the farm. The family supplies milk to Tipperary Co-op which exports cheese, butter, infant formula and powders. “Origin Green is one of the few voices we have on the international stage,” says Edwin.

Retail and foodservice customers, as well as food and drink manufacturers, are increasingly committed to “sustainable sourcing” - sourcing from suppliers with robust and recognised certification, such as Bord Bía’s SDAS. Already, Origin Green verified members account for over 90% of Ireland’s total food and drink exports.