John McHugh runs a 230-acre organic dairy farm in Co. Laois.
He moved away from being an intensive dairy farmer in 2015 when he realised that he needed to create a sustainable and resilient lifestyle that his children could carry on.
He is a farmer that has adapted from a commodity and profit-driven production system of dairy farming to one that is focused on family succession, long-term environmental goals and nature-based farming.
It is a farm that is being built around supporting and developing his local community – developing the Clondarrig Community Farm Project.
Since 2015, he has sown diverse pastures, practises holistic grazing that allows pastures to flower and seed enabling some natural succession to take place and bringing about huge jumps in insect populations.
“Having long grazing intervals and reduced grazing pressure is allowing more natural diversity back into the farm.”
He has embraced the principles of permaculture, converting pastures to agroforestry and lining cow access roadways with fruit and nut trees.
Pigs and oats
Pigs were introduced to the farm as another means of promoting diversity, helping to break the dominance of perennial ryegrass and create opportunities for other plants.
Oats are sown to provide the straw and grain requirements and the surplus is sold to Flahavans for organic porridge.
In 2018, he decided to open up his farm to people that were able to teach others about engaging with the land and reconnecting with nature, this saw the birth of the Clondarrig community farm project.
“It’s all about connection, connection of trees, wildlife, butterflies, but the connection with people as well”.
Farming for Nature
Now in its third year, Farming For Nature was set up with an aim to source, share and celebrate the stories of farmers across Ireland who manage their land in a way that sustains nature, while providing a livelihood for their family.
Nominations are sought annually from a broad panel of environmental experts and through a rigorous system of interviews, farm visits and assessments by a panel of judges, 16 of these farmers were selected as ambassadors in 2020.
Of these, 8 ambassadors have been chosen to represent a cross-section of the farming community during September and October.
They will be featured at the Burren Winterage Weekend at the end of October when the winner of the public vote will also be announced.
The Farming for Nature Awards are sponsored by Bord Bia and supported by a wide range of farming and conservation interests including the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the National Rural Network.
The deadline for 2020 voting is midnight Friday, October 23rd, 2020 - To vote or to obtain any further information, click here.