Dutch farmers are known globally for their innovative approach to the industry, but could a group of leading dairy farmers from Europe's agricultural powerhouse learn a thing or two from a visit to Northern Ireland?
AgriSearch recently hosted 34 leading dairy farmers from the Netherlands on a farmer exchange to Northern Ireland as part of the EuroDairy Project.
The issues discussed included: ammonia mitigation; minimising nutrient losses; animal housing systems; grassland management; fixed milk pricing schemes; dairy cow nutrition; and grassland management.
As part of their tour, the Dutch farmers also visited: the Dairy Technology Centre at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise's Greenmount Campus; AFBI Hillsborough; Dale Farm headquarters; as well as the farms of two Northern Ireland EuroDairy pilot farmers - Thomas Steele and Brian McCracken.
It followed on from visits by Northern Ireland's EuroDairy pilot farmers to the Netherlands.
The highlight of the visit was a dinner in Parliament Buildings hosted by AgriSearch at which the Dutch farmers met members of the UFU Next Generation Forum.
After a welcome by AgriSearch chairman Michael Bell and the former minister for agriculture, Michelle McIlveen, discussion was facilitated by renowned agricultural journalist and commentator Richard Wright.
The purpose of the EuroDairy farmer exchange programme is to enable the sharing of innovations across the participating countries.
EuroDairy is an international network to increase the economic, social and environmental sustainability of dairy farming in Europe, at a time of unprecedented challenge for the sector.
Funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, EuroDairy will foster the development and dissemination of practice-based innovation in dairy farming, targeting key sustainability issues following the abolition of milk quotas:
- Socio-economic resilience;
- Resource efficiency;
- Animal care;
- The integration of milk production with biodiversity objectives.
EuroDairy spans 14 countries including Ireland, Poland, Sweden and Italy, encompassing 40% of dairy farmers, 45% of cows and 60% of European milk output.
The project adopts the interactive model of the European Innovation Partnership, putting farmers at the centre of practice-based innovation, adapting and developing new and existing scientific knowledge to produce implementable solutions, which can then be shared across the network.