BY AOIFE FEENEY
THE recent winner of the Bandon Co-op Sustainability Award at the Carbery Milk Quality Awards, Vanessa Kiely-O’Connor gave us an overview of her 23.23ha farm in Upton, Innishannnon.
Currently stocked at 2.8 livestock units per hectare, Vanessa says that sustainability is key to a profitable business. Having completed the Professional Certificate in Business Strategy in Farming from Smurfit Business School with Teagasc and UCD, Vanessa has the confidence to maximise her business.
A number of areas she focused on are:
Breeding – Vanessa felt maximising her cows was the best way to drive the farm: ‘With a small land base, I had to figure out how to increase farm profitability without increasing cow numbers’. She focused on breeding in her own herd and increasing EBI. She achieved an increase from €39 (2016) to €101 (2018). Vanessa focuses on % milk solids, fertility and herd health. She bred cows in 2016 to Jersey and will have those 18 replacement heifers calving down in 2019.
Soil fertility and grass measuring – The rearing of her own replacements means that in a normal grass growing year Vanessa needs a third cut of silage from her own ground, this year having grazed to second cut, she was able to source silage bales locally through her contractor to fill the deficit. She soil tests every two years and implements a nutrient management plan. She also grass measures weekly and says ‘I stick to my rotation planner, getting the cows out early and following with slurry and fertiliser gave me a good crop of grass which got us through the drought.’
Economics – Vanessa completes a profit monitor annually and also uses the Teagasc cost control planner to manage finances. She has devised a five-year business plan through the course she completed in Smurfit and says she is on track.
Knowledge Transfer – She participates in the Bandon Budget KT group to keep up to date with developments in the sector.
A quality, sustainably-produced product at the end is what matters most to Vanessa: ‘We farm a unique story here in West Cork. Our willingness to share information allows us to learn from each other. We can all take great pride in sharing our stories and our products not just in Ireland but all over the world.’
Vanessa also won the Sustainability and Diversification category, sponsored by Scallys SuperValu, Clonakilty, at the 2018 West Cork Farming Awards, run by The Southern Star and Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery last month.
• Aoife Feeney is a Carbery dairy sustainability advisor.