Fifteen other West Cork farmers obtained a first-of-its-kind university degree which rewards the sustainability knowledge they acquired on the ground.
Dairy farmers are the last of 38 who have returned to school to study environmental science and social policy thanks to Carbery’s unique partnership with University College Cork.
Thanks to her, they saw how to measure and reduce their carbon, water and energy footprints while cultivating more sustainably by supporting soil and nutrient management and water quality.
All 38 producers completed the on-farm practical knowledge from Carbery’s Greener Dairy program and then completed the in-class course.
They got 60% of their credits through what’s called the Retrospective Prior Learning Mechanism, which is basically what they already knew. UCC then gave them the chance to obtain the necessary remaining credits in a more formal learning environment.
Carbery Director of Sustainability Enda Buckley said: “To date, 38 of our farmer suppliers have now completed this course and graduated from UCC.
“Some of them may not have had the chance to do their Leaving Cert and here they are with a degree in environmental science and social policy. It really gives these farmers a lot of self-confidence to what they have accomplished. And for us, it shows that our farmers are one step ahead in terms of interest and education in what it is to sustainable agriculture. “
Belinda Gascoigne, who manages the program for UCC, added: “Through the RPL process, UCC has been able to highlight and validate the tremendous work that farmers have done to make their farms both more durable and more profitable. Key achievements in their agricultural career are now certified in an NFQ Level 7 program. “
The 38 graduates all came from a total of 70 farms that have now completed the cooperative’s Greener Dairy Farming program, which was launched in 2012.
Its main objective is to introduce efficiency gains and improve sustainability through best practices on the farms of Carbery’s milk suppliers. Initially, twelve dairy farms participated in the program. Over the years, that number has grown to 70.
Farmers from the four West Cork cooperatives that own the business – Bandon, Barryroe, Drinagh and Lisavaird – can participate.
The company says attendees saw a 15% reduction in the carbon footprint of their farms. The CGDF also showed that for every liter of milk produced on these farms, it only takes 6.5 liters of water to produce it. In other countries, the water footprint figure would be a multiple of 6.5.
Many of the principles in the course are believed to predate Teagasc’s MACC curve for reducing farm emissions and also informed some of the approaches being tested in Carbery’s Farm Zero C project.
Carbery is now accepting applications for next year’s program from all interested suppliers, being encouraged to contact any member of Carbery’s sustainability team.