The ageing profile of farmers in Ireland is often commented upon with 41% of farmers over the age of 65.
Yet let us not forget the next generation of innovative and highly educated young farmers taking over the reins.
Sarah Wood-Martin is a sheep farmer, University College Dublin (UCD) agricultural science graduate and now Bord Bia and European Try Lamb Ambassador.
Sarah explains some of the practices she adopts on her farm in Sligo:
“All our rams in the flock are five-star euro star rams which increases the genetic status of the flock. Genetics is a huge barrier to sustainability and production in the Irish sheep industry.”
“The advantage of sheep farming is that its production systems emit lower greenhouse gas emissions than finishing cattle per kg of output and require a lower input per hectare.”
“We also manage out ewes and lambs are put on a rotational grazing system grazing four-day paddocks before moving to fresh pasture. This is using the grass as efficiently as possible and reducing the need for concentrate feeding.”
“We are also members of a discussion group. Through this group, we attend meetings learning and adapting our enterprise in line with work being carried out on Teagasc BETTER farms.”
Becoming an innovative farmer
As a graduate, Sarah believes in the importance of studying applied farming sciences to become an innovative farmer saying: “Studies on agriculture, farming techniques, methods and enterprises as well as the research that is being carried out daily in colleges and universities is astonishing.”
“As agriculture clashes with the trends of modern society, we are now working towards a cleaner, more sustainable and efficient sector in order to feed our worlds growing population.”
Sarah is aware that her generation of farming professionals has a vital role to play to influence consumers and peers on buying sustainable produce such as sheep.
Her family currently use Suffolk, Belclare, Charollais and Vendeen pedigree rams on their farm in Sligo.
“Our generation needs to be accountable for bridging the knowledge gaps in society’s perception of farming and food production.”
“Through studies and innovative techniques, farmers are delivering agricultural sustainability practices at the lowest environmental cost possible and manage production food efficiently.”
“We need to continue to highlight the facts about sheep (and all produce) production, which are supported by academic studies, and ensure consumers are not following trends due to being incorrectly informed.”
The important legacy of sheep
Sarah’s role as a Bord Bia and European Try Lamb ambassador is vital in highlighting to consumers, as well as farmers, the important legacy of sheep as a sustainable farming practice and as a quality taste product from Europe.
The €10.2m Bord Bia and EU co-funded campaign reaching across Ireland, UK and France is working with young farmers such as Sarah; to encourage the consumption of lamb as a regular meal choice due to its versality with flavours, as well as highlight the environmentally sustainable and economic benefits of lamb in the farming industry.
For example, sheep farming’s low production systems, due to their ability to live off the land rather than consuming a high intake of commercial feed, means a lower carbon footprint.
Try Lamb campaign’s outdoor and digital advertising kicks off in July.
The future of farming
Tommy Boland, Prof of Ruminant Nutrition and Sheep Production at UCD, and part-time sheep farmer stated: “The focus at the School of Agriculture and Food Science at UCD is to develop the next generation of agriculture, food and human nutrition leaders.”
“This is achieved by providing our students with the tools for critical thinking which allow them to adapt and respond as the challenges in the ever-changing science of agriculture and food production emerge.”
“Latest developments across a range of disciplines from animal breeding, through animal nutrition to food quality and processing are underpinned by a focus on sustainability, which educational programmes ensure that agriculture graduates can support the continued future sustainability of the Irish agri-food sector.” he concluded.
For more information on sustainable sheep farming, click here.