There’s a charm to the National Ploughing Championships which explains why families and exhibitors return year after year after year. Familiarity has bred affection.

One could argue that it has replaced the December 8th trip to Dublin as ‘the farmer’s holiday’, the day (or days) pencilled onto the kitchen calendar with Usain Bolt-like haste as soon as the venue for the following year is announced. At the time of posting, whether the event shall remain in Ratheniska or seek pastures new come 2024 has not yet been determined.

Despite the inevitable and unavoidable level of conversation about the pending decrease in Ireland’s Nitrates Derogation, the atmosphere at Ratheniska was upbeat.

From those posing with the Sam Maguire, Six Nations and Triple Crown trophies, to happily dancing punters enjoying live music or those smaller visitors who literally revelled in the mud, the sense of fun at ‘The Ploughing’ was pervasive.

It remains Europe’s largest outdoor event, which involves the creation of a temporary town which could comfortably cater for the population of Waterford City, Tramore and New Ross combined on any given day. It well and truly signals the changing of the seasons as tillage farmers’ minds turn towards soil testing and another busy spring.

Those milking cows, in the vast majority of cases, were still up early before hitting the road to Laois but the improvements made possible by robotic assistance has also added value to the day out for dairy farmers.

“This event remains hugely important,“ said Ireland South MEP Billy Kelleher (FF). “I’ve been a public representative since I was 24 years of age. And to represent the public, in my view, you have to meet, engage and listen to the public and hear what they have to say. I really do value the three days at the Ploughing Championships, which I attended as a farmer in my life before politics. It’s about people coming together who all have a significant interest in agriculture, the food sector and the impact that all these elements have on the quality of life in rural Ireland.”

Innovation is as prominent in today’s agribusiness word cloud today as sustainability is among farmers and producing and developing ways to farm more efficiently was showcased at Enterprise Ireland’s AgTech Hub.

Among the exhibitors was Brandon Bioscience, who promoted their Terra Range of fertilisers alongside their partners from Target Fertilisers, which has been developed to “reduce nitrates levels, maintain stocking rates and preserve water quality”.

“We produce seaweed-based biostimulants,” explained Deirdre Wall, Brandon Bioscience’s Marketing Manager (pictured). 

“By their nature, they stimulate the natural processes in plants so we’re working with Target Fertilisers in Ireland, coating our biostimulant onto their range of fertilisers and they essentially remove the nitrogen from the fertiliser and we replace it with the biostimulant. So farmers can reduce their nitrogen by about 25 per cent while still maintaining their output, which is incredibly topical at the moment. And we’re working with industry partners in Ireland to deliver practical and sustainable solutions for farmers. It’s been great to meet so many farmers here; there’s been a lot of discussion and concern about ways to move forward so that’s what we’re helping them to do.”

Having dropped in for a cup of tea and a catch-up with Ailish Brennan and her colleagues at the Lely stand, followed by visits to the Bennettsbridge Limestone and Creva International teams, Green Acre Marketing traversed the village to meet up with ABP Advisor Gavin Healy.

Gavin is part of ABP’s Advantage Beef Programme, which is seeking to build “a secure sustainable business model for beef farmers and their families” and represents the first programme of its kind run in Ireland.

“We’re aiming to get animals slaughtered at an optimal age and getting them into suitable market specifications from there. We’ve a set of criteria that both the animal and farmer needs to meet. The animal needs to be quality assured all of its life with a maximum of one movement. It needs to be in the finishing herd for six months and on top of that it needs to have two weights uploaded onto ICBF (the National Genotyping Programme). We’re moving more and more towards improving genetics and we’re putting an emphasis on the traits of the bulls being used on these animals and we’re setting minimum genetic standards for the coming year.”

Encouraged by the uptake to the programme, Gavin commented: “I reckon we’ll have a few busy weeks after (the Ploughing) getting around to farmers around the country that we’ve spoken to over the past few days and hopefully we’ll have a decent number of sign-ups on the back of this.”

No Ploughing Championship would be complete without some reference to the weather, and not exclusive to the four seasons which were on show over the event’s three-day run.

Chatting to Kieran O’Connor about the long-term outlook, Met Éireann’s Gerry Murphy commented: “The fact of the matter is that the weather over Ireland is, by its very nature, variable. So it’s not unusual for us to have an occasional very wet summer but we can also have some very dry summers as well. Statistically, the month of May has always been a very sunny month in Ireland. We often get spells of rain in June, July and August, though not as much as this year (in general). And then we often get a decent spell in the middle of September as well, so that’s not unusual for Ireland.”

When asked has our weather become more extreme, Gerry Murphy replied: “The situation, when it comes to overall projections on climate change, breaks down like this: that while the weather from summer to summer over Ireland is variable, the longer-term trend is for warmer, drier summers as a whole but, overall through the year, an increase in rainfall and also the fact that the rainfall events will be more intense.”

Perhaps, in some instances, we’ve already received a taste of what’s to come given the contrasts between the near drought conditions of mid to late May, which was followed by sustained summer rains which greatly delayed the national harvest.

No doubt, this is a subject, in addition to farm safety, fertiliser use as well as herd/crop health that we’ll revisit at next year’s Ploughing Championships. Hopefully, Green Acre Marketing will see you there!