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Nicole is tasked with championing sustainability of our dairy industry

September 9th, 2022 3:30 PM

By Emma Connolly

Innishannon farmer Nicole Keohane is one of 11 farmer ambassadors signed up to act as advocates and spokespeople for Ireland’s family-farm-based, grass-fed dairy production system.

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THE results of research and green initiatives being carried out in the agri sector need to be made more accessible to farmers and consumers.

That’s according to a young dairy farmer from Innishannon who has been selected as one of 11 new farm ambassadors to champion Ireland’s 17,500 family dairy farms, 60,000 jobs and €5bn economic contribution.

Nicole Keohane is part of the National Dairy Council’s just-launched campaign to tell the public what their industry is doing to be more environmentally-friendly and reduce its emissions.

It’s about real farmers, with real stories, showcasing what the industry’s doing and the progress it’s making.

Nicole has a unique perspective to share as she’s both a passionate farmer and an academic. She’s undertaking a Phd, which involves a cutting-edge research project to show how a non-antibiotic approach to udder health can help a dairy cow to live longer and produce more.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health and development threat, and was declared as one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2020.

This research project is regarded as vitally important as AMR is a mounting concern within the dairy industry, to such an extent that preventative antibiotics in livestock will become heavily restricted under new European legislation.

‘This research will be focusing on a non-antibiotic alternative.

‘I was very fortunate to receive funding from the Irish Research Council’s Enterprise Programme to carry out this research,’ she explained.

When Nicole isn’t conducting her ground breaking research she runs a dairy farm with grandparents John and Anne.

She said she feels privileged in that she can look at problems in the sector as both a farmer and an academic.

‘I’m always reading articles and papers that are investigating issues that we’re having, and finding solutions.

‘But one issue we may have is to make the results of the research more accessible to both farmers and consumers,’ she said.

‘It’s about letting people know what we can do, if we’re not doing it now, and portraying the message of what is already being done.

‘There is definitely a gap there that needs to be bridged,’ she said.

On her own farm, she said, they are managing their herd’s performance through a breeding programme.

‘We are making sure that we’re getting less emissions per litre of milk and trying to be as productive as we can while considering the environment,’ she said.

Zoë Kavanagh, ceo of the National Dairy Council, believes that there needs to be more balance in the debate around the future of dairy farming and its role in Irish life – balance which is currently lacking.

‘The farmer ambassador programme provides a voice for our industry – well, 11 voices – and we want to provide the platforms that they need to tell their stories so the public can feel better connected to the farming process that ultimately puts the dairy in their fridge.’

A video of each of the farmer ambassadors sees them talking about themselves, their farms, and their views on some of the current issues facing Irish dairy.

Green initiatives discussed include breeding programmes, pasture management, robotic milking and use of tech.

For more, see the ambassador videos at ndc.ie/farmer-ambassadors

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