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Bessbrook dairy farmer showcases sustainability efforts

Raymond McCormick with his son Darren McCormick, and Chief Executive of the Dairy Council NI Ian Stevenson (centre)
Raymond McCormick with his son Darren McCormick, and Chief Executive of the Dairy Council NI Ian Stevenson (centre)

Visitors from across the dairy sector and beyond gathered in Bessbrook to receive a guided tour from Darren McCormick of his dairy farm and hear about the measures Darren is taking to farm more sustainably.

The farm visit took place as part of the EU Sustainable Dairy Programme which is a multi-country European Milk Forum initiative with the aim of highlighting the positive role of the dairy sector for climate action and the environment and facilitating the knowledge transfer between the member countries.

Attendees heard about the various research programmes that the McCormick farm has participated in including the Carbon Audit Pilot Programme, which Darren was one of the first 50 farms in Northern Ireland to take part in.

The programme involved the collection of data to determine the farm’s carbon emissions and is an important step in the sector’s obligation to meet targets under the Climate Change Act. Visitors had the opportunity to put questions to Darren and received a guided tour of the farm.

Darren said: “The main focus on our farm is producing high-quality milk, and as the fourth generation on the farm, it’s important to safeguard the land for future generations, including my own children. We recently took part in the Carbon Audit Programme and the Soil Nutrient Health scheme, the data from which has informed our on-farm practices with regards to nutrient management and is guiding us in implementing mitigation measures to lower our carbon footprint.

“Looking to the future we’re planning to invest in solar panels to power the farm through renewable energy and we’re exploring opportunities to use digital technology to monitor and manage herd performance.”

Ian Stevenson, Chief Executive of the Dairy Council NI commented: “The McCormick farm is an excellent case study showcasing the successful knowledge transfer partnerships in place between our dairy farmers and business development  institutions such as CAFRE and DAERA. Working with scientists to inform their research and charting a path forward for the sector towards reducing emissions, increasing efficiency and building resilience is a central plank of the dairy industry sustainability journey.

 “In addition to producing high quality, nutritious milk, Darren is lowering his emissions through calving at 2 years old, the use of Low Emission Slurry Spreading techniques, an efficient breeding programme and nutrient management.”

Raymond McCormick with his son Darren McCormick, and Chief Executive of the Dairy Council NI Ian Stevenson (centre)

Darren farms in partnership with his parents Raymond and Elizabeth and is the fourth generation on the farm in Bessbrook, just north of Newry. Spanning over 200 acres including conacre, the farm contains a 2 hectares wetland which is home to a variety of local wildlife.

As part of the Soil Nutrient programme Darren received soil and LiDAR analysis of his farm and surrounding areas which detailed where the most likely nutrient run-off areas are. The analysis showed that Darren’s Ph, P, and K levels were optimal and to apply lime when required.

A contractor applies slurry by dribble bar and knowing the soil nutrient levels are optimal has allowed Darren to cut his artificial fertiliser usage by half – which has both economic and environmental benefits.

Fields are reseeded with a high sugar grass mix and he stitches nitrogen-fixing clover into his swards to feed the grasses and reduce the need for artificial fertilisers further.

The McCormicks rear their own replacement heifers with approximately 40 replacement heifers a year. Artificial insemination is used with sexed semen on the main herd.

To view the existing sustainability information from the dairy sector, visit the Dairy Council NI website

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