Father and son team, Norman and Michael Dunne, have moved away from a conventional, intensive tillage enterprise to a regenerative farming system.
They operate their 400-acre tillage farm in Maynooth, Co. Kildare, under the principles of conservation agriculture.
The Dunnes began making the transition gradually five years ago. They grow beans, oats, barley and wheat for the animal feed market and Norman also produces hay for the equine market.
The family keep a small number of pigs and sheep to graze cover crops and pasture.
Their focus has been on regenerating soil biology and reducing external inputs where possible on the farm.
“For the last three years, we have been using no insecticides. Of late, we have moved towards inoculating seed, saving our own seeds, inoculating them with biological seeds and root-enhancing, natural products.”
They grow cereal crops on the land using minimal disturbance methods such as direct drilling and min-till. Crop rotations and permanent organic soil cover systems are in place.
Additionally, they use multi-species cover crops to build soil fertility and enhance soil structure, all the while providing a food source for pollinating insects.
The farmers are experimenting with biodynamic preparations and Korean natural farming methods to enhance the soil biology and to inoculate seeds before sowing.
“You are getting the seeds off to the best possible start that you can give them by inoculating it with something biological rather than something chemical.”
“It encourages with the bond between the seed and the soil. Also, it is a natural defence from pathogens. It is like colostrum for a baby.”
Since reintroducing regenerative farming methods on the land, there has been a significant increase in biodiversity and a return of numerous bird species to the farm.
“Biodiversity has exploded on the land here in the past 3 or 4 years. There are birds here now that I have never seen on the farm before.”
The Dunnes have witnessed the return of barn owls, skylarks, sparrow hawks, kestrels, buzzards, woodpeckers, wood pigeons, lapwings and yellowhammers, amongst others.
Farming for Nature
Norman is one of the ambassadors of the 2021 national Farming for Nature initiative.
Now in its fourth year, FFN aims 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 families”.
The seven ambassadors will feature at the annual Burren Winterage Weekend in October. Organisers will announce the winner of the public vote at this event.
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