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HomeFarming NewsLife-long farmer creating ‘productive, economically viable and ecologically biodiverse’ enterprise
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Life-long farmer creating ‘productive, economically viable and ecologically biodiverse’ enterprise

Colm Flynn is a fourth-generation life-long farmer from Athy, County Kildare, who has changed his farming practices in recent years.

His land has been intensively farmed for cereal production for many years and about seven years ago, having experienced and understood the impacts of intensive tillage on the soil health, he decided it was time to re-evaluate.

“One of the moments for me was when I realised that crows were not following the plough anymore and I began to question what was going on,” he explained.

“I had a deep sense that something was happening and that the ground was harder to till to get a seedbed and yields were really compromised.”

“I decided that I was going to have to make some form of change,” he revealed.

Danú farming project

The introduction of the Danú farming project was a timely intervention for Flynn, who became involved to change the direction of his farm.

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“I decided that I would introduce grass onto the farm. Some of our land had not been in grass for over 100 years, as it was in continuous tillage.”

“It happened to coincide with the lifting of dairy quotas and the return of the growth of the industry. I did not want to start milking cows myself, but I said I would get as close as possible to it.”

“So, I put in grass and entered into an agreement with a local dairy farmer, who was expanding and that was the start of it.”

“I had land in grass when the Danú farming project started, but I knew I had built up a relationship with the farmer and if the project was going to involve grass, my idea was to rehabilitee the soil, I was going to marry the whole lot together for the rehabilitation of the soil.”

“I was going to use the Danú farming project to see if there were any mechanisms that I could put into that to facilitate the rehabilitation of the soil and use grass as the medium.”

Rehabilitating soil 

As a result, he has spent the past number of years working to rehabilitate soil using biological solutions – “learning how to rehabilitate a commercial farm in a commercial context and find alternatives to chemical applications”.

Part of his involvement in the project included reintroducing grasses and multispecies swards to the farm – allowing the land to rest, building organic matter, and regenerating the soil biology.

The farm is currently 50% cereal production, producing spring peas, winter barley, oats, and wheat, while the remaining 50% is under grassland and utilised for silage production and cattle grazing.

Colm has always been interested in nature and wildlife. Areas of mature woodland on the farm serve as habitats for hares, foxes, and badgers.

He has planted an orchard on the farm, most of which is left as food for birds and insects.

There are numerous species of birds on the land, including finches, mistle thrush, jackdaws, long-eared owls, and barn owls.

Colm continues to work hard to “create a farm that is productive, economically viable and ecologically biodiverse”.

“I recorded 33 species of birds coming through the farm this winter,” he explained.

“I did an audit of the plants that grow on the farm and 84 plant species were recorded – from the tiniest little flowering plant to rushes to wild orchids.”

“I hope in a few years’ time that the number of plant species on the farm will have increased.”

Farm walk

Flynn will open the gates of his farm later this month, as part of Onsight Insights, a series of farm walks whereby a number of Farming for Nature (FFN) ambassadors will showcase their contribution to nature and good farming practices on their land and highlight their practical on-farm actions to support biodiversity and climate.

This walk will take place on Saturday, August 26th, 2023 at 2 pm and the theme of this farm walk is ‘Reducing inputs and incorporating min-till into a tillage farming system’.

According to organisers, “these walks are a great opportunity to meet like-minded farmers and to gain an insight into the creative and inspiring ways that farmers are working to incorporate, protect and enhance nature on their land”.

“There is a great diversity of ambassadors set to host farm walks this year covering a range of farming systems from tillage to dairy, forestry to market gardening, mixed stock to high nature value farming, and lots more in between.”

“There are farm walks scheduled for each province in Ireland. The walks cost €10 to attend.”

“This is a not-for-profit initiative and all monies received will be circulated back into the farming community.”

For more information and to book your place on a walk, please go to Farming for Nature’s website.

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