The View from Teagasc: The SuperValu Sustainable Farm Programme started in July of this year and will run for two years to July 2015. There are 10 farms selected, with each farm working with a local adviser. 

The farms are across the country: Cork, (advisers — Ruth Fennell and Pat Barry) Carlow (adviser — Hugh Mahon) Offaly (adviser — Pat O’Gorman), Westmeath (adviser — David Webster), Meath (adviser — Ned Heffernan), Longford (adviser — James Keane), Galway (adviser — Gabriel Trayers) and Roscommon (advisers — Brian Daly and James Kelly).

Each farm will focus on two key areas for improvement as part of its farm plan. The same could be done for any farm in the country, so how will the farm plan be completed under the SuperValu Sustainable Farm Programme?

Drawing up a farm plan – Where to start?
The basis of any farm plan is establishing where the farm is in terms of profitability. A profit monitor is the first step in the SuperValu Sustainable Farm Programme. It will establish key performance parameters:

* What farming system/systems are in place?
* What is the liveweight produced per livestock unit and per hectare?
* What are the variable costs as a percentage of output produced?
* What is the gross margin/hectare?

Farm plan — next steps
With the calving report from HerdPlus, weaknesses and strengths can be identified from the Profit Monitor Advisers and farmers will sit down together and decide what changes to focus on. For many farmers, finding ways to improve profitability will be the main focus. For others, it may be requirement on the farm.

Farm plan — key areas
There are a number of key areas that will be focused on in the programme:

*Grassland management
* Breeding/animal performance
* Animal health
* Carbon footprint awareness
* market specification

Grassland management
Good grassland management involves both growing and utilising grass. To grow grass efficiently any soil deficiencies for lime, P and K must be corrected. Soil tests will be used on farms in the programme to assess fertility and a farm nutrient management plan will be drawn up.

Throughout the programme, best grassland management advice will be used as appropriate to the spring, summer and autumn. Simple measures will be used where suitable to increase the number of days at grass and to improve grass quality; increasing the number of paddocks on the farm, for example.

Breeding/animal performance
Throughout the programme, breeding and animal performance will be monitored and improvements made, where appropriate. HerdPlus reports and weighings will be used for this purpose. Key targets:

* 365-day calving interval
*12-week calving spread
* 0.95 calf/cow/year
* Less than 2.5 per cent mortality at birth
* Less than 5 per cent mortality at 28 days
* 60 per cent of cows calved in first month
* 80 per cent of cows calved in two months

Weanling weights will also indicate whether cows have adequate milk. Weighings at the start of the finishing period will allow finishing performance to be assessed.

Animal health
A farm plan that does not have a strategic plan for animal health can fail if there are underlying disease issues. As part of the programme, a Kepak vet will work closely with participants and their own vets to draw up a herd health plan for each farm. This is an area which is often neglected at farm level. A proactive approach is required when it comes to animal health rather than reacting to disease outbreaks.

Carbon footprint awareness
The Bord Bia Carbon Navigator will be completed for all participants in the programme. This online facility (which can be completed for any farm once they are in the BQAS) outlines areas that can be improved to reduce the carbon footprint on farms.

Many measures that improve the overall efficiency on the farm will improve the carbon footprint, for example improving the number of calves/cow per year and so on.

Market specification
Throughout the programme, participants will be made aware of market specification requirements. There is no point in producing a product that the market does not require.  Knowing what the market wants and delivering on that requirement should deliver higher margins.

Programme participants will be advised on how to best produce cattle/sheep to meet the SuperValu market specification.

By Karen Dukelow and Aidan Murray, beef specialists, Teagasc Animal Grassland and Innovation Programme

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