TOM and Laura Griffin farm a 50-hectare dairy farm in Ballinroher, Timoleague, supplying milk to Barryroe Co-Op, which is part of the Carbery Group.
He always wanted to work on the farm. Working part-time initially, he travelled in Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand and says ‘nothing compares to the unique family farm structure and the quality of the produce here in Ireland.’
Tom and Laura settled down and took over the farm in 2010. They have three daughters, Juliet aged five, Saoirse aged four and Amy aged one.
He describes the Bord Bia Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) as being an enlightening experience. ‘SDAS helps you benchmark yourself against others. You can’t improve something if you can’t measure it.’
Dairy farmers who are certified members of SDAS and who participate in a farm sustainability survey as part of their audit, are members of Origin Green.
SDAS and the carbon navigator allow Origin Green farmers to measure and benchmark their sustainability practices, helping them to identify efficiencies which they can improve on their own farm, which can also improve profitability.
Key improvement measures on dairy farms taking part in SDAS and the sustainability survey include: Increased Economic Breeding Index (EBI), longer grazing season, improved nitrogen use efficiency, improved slurry management and energy efficiency.
Tom Griffin says SDAS and being a member of Origin Green has been very beneficial. ‘For example, SDAS helped us with slurry management. Spreading urea in the spring reduced our carbon footprint and reduced costs. I’ve learned that everything you do that is sustainable, also improves the bottom line.’
He also monitored water and power consumption through the Carbery Greener Dairy Farm programme. He measured where he was doing well, where he needed improvement and has made good savings. ‘We made small changes like increasing the size of the plate cooler to make it more efficient.
‘We also recycle the water and put it back out to the paddocks,’ says Tom. ‘Installing LED lights everywhere will hopefully give us a quick pay back within two and a half to three years.’
Tom describes the evolution of his farm and his focus, as being three legs of a stool – the grass, the soil and the breed: ‘Once these three things are at their optimum, everything else is a sideshow.’
Because he wasn’t growing enough grass, Tom re-seeded his entire farm.
He incorporates clover to improve pasture quality and quantity.
He has a huge interest in soil biology. ‘We’re always trying to optimise the nutrient status of our soil and we’ve had the PH corrected on the entire farm. We also try to improve earthworm activity because they’re natural soil improvers,’ says Tom. ‘My goal is not just to reap the benefits from sustainable farming, but to leave the soil in a better place every year.’
Tom is using the power of genetics to breed a fertile herd that will produce large milk solids off grazed grass. ‘High EBI cows are also more sustainable and this helped us to bring down our carbon footprint.’
Tom appreciates support from other farmers. ‘My father taught me to know the value of networking and to be open minded and brave. He always told me to work hard, but also to work smart – and I carry on that ethos as best I can.’
His parents, Sean and Mary Griffin, live across the yard and help on the farm, providing good counsel. ‘I had been in partnership with my father for five years. Over time, he slowly let me have control over certain aspects of the farm.
‘My father was a real innovator in his time. It was a great way to learn.’
Tom is very conscious of the importance of marketing Irish produce abroad. ‘Origin Green is a super vehicle for promoting Irish food, as well as the uniqueness of our natural green environment’
Peadar Murphy, chief executive of Barryroe Co-Op, commented: ‘Farmers like Thomas Griffin who have SDAS certification and membership of Origin Green, give us in Barryroe Co-Op the confidence that we can demonstrate to our buyers and customers that they are being supplied with milk that is produced in a sustainable manner and to the highest quality standards.’
• Find out more about the benefits of being part of Origin Green through SDAS at www.bordbia.ie/farmers