More than 120 vets from Ireland, UK and Denmark gathered in Cork last weekend to consider a Food Harvest strategy for Irish veterinary. 

The key take away message from the event was that Irish vets can play a very significant role in supporting farmers to grow their businesses after milk quotas expire in 2015. However, to play the role effectively, veterinary will have to change. On opening the conference, John Berkery Chairman of XLVets commented: “Vets have made a huge investment in training and up-skilling themselves. However, we realise that this is not enough. We must convert our skills into a new range of services that will help farmers to grow their businesses in a sustainable fashion.”

During the event delegates were advised by Jens Philipsen, a Danish vet specialising in herd health that providing a reactive emergency response service to farmers is no longer sufficient. Vets also need to be excellent data managers so that they can proactively work with farmers in pre-empting herd health problems and optimising farm output.

Bill O’Keeffe, Chairman of Nuffield Ireland, urged vets to move beyond being service providers and to take on a development support role, in particular, for younger farmers and farmers not participating in discussion groups. This would require vets building mentoring relationships with farmers for the purposes of helping them to achieve their longer term farm development goals.

Throughout the event, vets were reminded that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ service approach to farmers was no longer appropriate. Roeland Wessels, veterinary consultant from Holland advised vets on the importance of listening to farmers and tailoring services accordingly. Throughout the event it became clear that farmers want their vets to do more, including providing advice on genomics, nutrition and grassland management.

Pat Dillon, head of animal and grassland research at Moorepark, echoed this view also when he pointed out that Teagasc no longer has the resources to extend tailored on-farm advice to all farmers and that partnering with vets in doing this work provides a way forward for Teagasc to continue to fulfil this part of its mission.

Luke O’Grady, lecturer at UCD Veterinary School, reminded delegates that if vets are going to meet all these new demands they will need the systems to gather the relevant data and the software to produce concise reports for each farmer in ‘3 clicks of a mouse’.

Padraig Duggan of XLVets also emphasised the issue of time management by saying that the standard of work currently undertaken by vets cannot be allowed to fall while making way for the provision of new services. ‘We must build while continuing to move’; he stated.

Commenting after the event, XLVets Chairman John Berkery stated that “the opportunity in front of the entire agri-food sector is hugely exciting. This conference has succeeded in clarifying the steps the veterinary sector needs to take so that it can maximise its contribution to making the Food Harvest happen. The message is that veterinary has to work smarter so that it can offer pro-active herd health consultancy programmes along side the emergency response services that farmers will continue to need”.

In terms of scoping out how this might be done, Berkery went on to say that “first and foremost we have to make better use of data; then we have to craft tailored solutions from that data according to farmers’ needs and then we have to learn how to deliver those solutions to farmers in an effective manner”.

Berkery went on to acknowledge that “changing the veterinary operational model in this way will be challenging but that XLVets would use it’s collaborative structure to make it happen”.

XLVets is a group of independent and progressive veterinary practices. Its website is here.

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Pictured: Vets and farmers at the farm walk in Cork at the recent Cattle Association of Veterinary Ireland Conference