Farming & Fisheries

Making his mark with move to dairy

July 23rd, 2020 10:05 PM

By Emma Connolly

Award-winning farmer Mark Kelleher with some of his dairy herd on the family farm at Tullyland, Bandon. (Photos: Don MacMonagle)

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The Carbery Milk Quality and Sustainability Awards have been running since 2004 and recognise Carbery Group’s commitment to Milk Quality and Sustainability. Sustainability is an important part of how Carbery does business and the group and its suppliers are recognised as being leaders in this area, from farms to finished products. The Sustainability Award recognises the work of Carbery farmer suppliers in becoming sustainable, resilient farms. Four winners, one from each of the four West Cork Co-ops are recognised annually for their excellence in sustainability and this week we profile Bandon Co-Op Sustainability Award winner Mark Kelleher

MARK Kelleher is a dairy farmer in Tullyland, Bandon, with his wife Elmarie and daughter Josephine (9). Mark took over a drystock beef farm from his parents, John and Josephine Kelleher, with 110 acres and now has a herd of 90 pedigree holstein friesian cows.

The farm produces circa 700,000 litres of milk per year and he is hoping to achieve 600kg of milk solids per cow this year. Mark was the Bandon Co-Op winner of the Carbery Group 2019 Sustainability Award.

Mark changed over to a dairying enterprise in 2010, where the family started out with 44,500 gallons of quota, as a new entrant, and 40 cows. They have built up the herd over time gradually. Theirs is a family-run operation and the aim long-term is to operate efficiently with 80 to 100 cows, keeping the herd and workload at a sustainable and manageable level.

From a sustainability point of view, he is motivated by a desire to work in harmony with the environment. ‘We are custodians of the land and our job is to look after it so we can hand it down from one generation to the next,’ he said. Mark has participated in REPS and GLAS and is positive about the supports available to farmers looking at sustainability. ‘I am always looking at new initiatives to improve efficiency and how I operate. Having travelled to New Zealand, I noticed how much they focus on operating farming as a business, they have a strong focus on measurement, be it of water, grass or nitrogen application, therefore measurement is key.

‘I would be an advocate of AI breeding (sexed semen), milk recording, grass measuring, and low emissions slurry spreading. I focus strongly on maintaining landscapes as I like to have it looking well, I incorporate broad leaf trees in planting, maintain ditches and replant where possible,’ he explained.

Winning the Sustainability Award was a huge moment for Mark and his family, and a very proud one: ‘It was a massive privilege to win, and a nice opportunity to reflect on all we had achieved over the last 10 years. You don’t often get the chance to pause and take stock of where you’ve come from as a farmer, so it was a real moment to say we must be going in the right direction.’

Mark has advice for farmers looking to get started on or to improve their sustainability. ‘There is a lot of focus on numbers and expanding in farming, for me the balance I have found is to keep my numbers within a manageable range, and instead of expanding or taking on more land I look at how I can improve the quality of every aspect within the family farm, even if it meant reducing stock numbers, I would do this if it improved the quality of what I produce.’

He is also positive about the supports readily available to farmers and always uses these resources. Key areas of focus for him are environment, rain water harvesting, milk recording, grass measuring, AI breeding and soil fertility.

‘All of these items make huge improvements to our outputs as farmers and I think it would be great to see more farmers starting to measure use. Bandon Co-op are readily available to provide great on-farm advice, support and expertise to farmers who are interested, and this has assisted me with the many changes I have made over the last number of years,’ he said.

Lastly, one thing that Mark really values is balance. He is involved with the local GAA and camogie club and appreciates the outlet that gives him off farm.

‘It’s essential to have a quality of life outside of the farm. We want to attract the next generation to farming, and to make sure it’s a viable option for them. Making sure that you have a good life balance alongside your farming is essential to be able to do this.’


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