AT the moment the Farm Innovation Visits Scheme has been suspended due to travel and social distancing restrictions.
This is a College of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) scheme which offers farmers and growers the opportunity to travel to other parts of the UK and Europe to learn about new innovative technologies which they could bring back to their own business.
However, before restrictions were put in place, at the beginning of March, a group of 16 dairy farmers travelled to Great Britain to learn about large dairy herd management. The tour was led by Michael Verner and Kenneth Johnston from CAFRE.
Average herd size has steadily increased in Northern Ireland with a significant number of units now milking in excess of 250 cows. This increase has resulted in owners and managers being faced with a range of new challenges.
The study trip looked at how both cows and staff are managed to achieve key performance targets, including the recruitment, training and management of staff and the development and implementation of clear work protocols.
The tour included visits to two large scale dairy farms in Yorkshire – A&E Banks and Son and Metcalfe Farms. Both these businesses are milking in excess of 650 cows with annual production in excess of 11,000 litres milk sold per cow per year.
Each business employs large numbers of staff, many of whom are part-time and have little previous farming experience. Both have very detailed protocols for each activity on the farm.
One dairy farmer who took part in the trip was Samuel Hill from Ahoghill, County Antrim. Reflecting on the success of the trip, Samuel said: “This trip gave us the opportunity to visit two super farms where I learned so much.
“We were able to discuss in detail the issues associated with the management of large herds, including the day-to-day management of cows, calves and young stock. The most impressive thing was the scale of the businesses and the motivation of the staff that we met. We also saw first-hand the use of detailed protocols.
“Overall it was a memorable trip and I would encourage other farmers to apply for Farm Innovation Visits that are appropriate to their business in the future.”
The Farm Innovation Visit Scheme, which is part of the NI Rural Development Programme and part funded by the EU, covers the costs associated with setting up the visit, accommodation, travel outside of Northern Ireland and meals when in Great Britain or Europe. Participants are expected to meet any additional costs, including farm relief and travel insurance.
While Farm Innovation Visits are currently on hold due to Covid-19 it is hoped that they will return again in the future.
n Any farmers who are interested in participating in future study tours can find out more details at: www.cafre.ac.uk/industry-support/farm-innovation-visits/