Part of the SmartAgri Hubs project, a new experiment in underway to identify key metrics to develop and implement a sustainability audit for dairy farmers, providing more robust information for different stakeholders.

Concept 

The overall goal is to identify key sustainability metrics and to facilitate the benchmarking and improvement of sustainability at farms and throughout the dairy industry. This quantification is done through the combination of on-farm sensors, existing farm data, internationally recognized models, integrated databases and the consultation of various key advisors in agriculture.

Using 20 dairy farms as ‘Development and Deployment Farms’, the experiment is developing and implementing an auditing system for milk production enterprises. It essentially measures a range of parameters related to energy and water use, nutrient use efficiency, animal welfare and greenhouse gas emissions.

From here the audit combines this data to provide useful and real-time information to the farmer, enabling them to monitor and subsequently improve the sustainability of their production processes. 

Implementation 

There are currently 20 farms selected for this project. There are 11 farms selected from the Glanbia monitor farms and 9 farms selected from the Dairygold monitor farms. One of the requirements, aside from the willingness of the farmers to collaborate on new technologies, was the availability of WiFi on the farm.

The most significant technical success story in the project is the development of the database with multiple different files coming from many different sources. Each file had to be individually mapped for each farmer. The water and electricity files were all configured differently as it depends on the way the farm itself is organised. For example, one farm might have the drinking water coming from the main well and another farmer might have the drinking water coming from a separate well. This would require different mapping to be carried out for each farm to ensure reliable and accurate results. All of this data is now flowing automatically into the newly integrated database where information is securely stored. 

The farmers are very open-minded about improving their sustainability on-farm and want to implement strategies to increase their sustainability. The outputs of this project could provide the next steps in robust data collection and assembly for sustainability assessment on farms.  

The Farm Sustainability Auditing Tool was developed alongside 28 other Flagship Innovation Experiments as part of the Smart Agri Hubs project. The organisations behind the development of the Farm Sustainability Auditing Tool are Teagasc - Soils, Environment and Land Use, Walton Institute and the Smart Agri Hubs Ireland & UK team. The Smart Agri Hubs project is funded by the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and consists of 164 partners, including Innovation for Agriculture.