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Representatives of Winning Organisations of the Harvest Pearse Walsh Award for Innovation and Transfer of Learning: L-R Caroline Browne (Dairygold), Dr. Tom O'Dwyer (Teagasc), Pat Clancy (Dairygold), Gary Flood (Gary Flood Training & Communications), Billy Cronin (Dairygold), Breeda Flood (ICOS Skillnet), Jerry Long (ICOS), Seamus Kearney (Teagasc), Eamonn Farrell (ICOS), Ray Doyle (Golden Jubilee Trust) at the IITD National Training Awards 2022, Killashee, Naas, Kildare. Photo: Michael Donnelly. NO REPRO FEE / FREE TO USE. Caroline Browne -Dairygold HR Manager, Dairygold Agri Business, Dr Tom O ’Dwyer – Teagasc - Head of Signpost Programme, Pat Clancy – Vice Chairman Dairygold, Gary Flood – Gary Floor Training & Communications, Billy Cronin – Head of Supply Chain Farm to Factory Dairygold, Breeda Flood – Operations Manager – ICOS SKILLNET, Jerry Long – President - ICOS, Seamus Kearney – Teagasc – Signpost Programme Training & Development Specialist, Eamonn Farrell – Agri Food Policy Executive - ICOS, Ray Doyle – Golden Jubilee Trust

A ‘game changing’ new programme addressing the training and development needs of co-operatives and their farmer members and producers, as they work to reduce their carbon footprint, has won the prestigious Harvest Pearse Walsh Award, the supreme accolade of the Irish Institute of Training & Development’s National Training Awards.

ICOS Skillnet, ICOS, Dairygold and Teagasc jointly won the award for the innovative new sustainability training programme that has been developed to guide and support farmers implementing the national Teagasc Signpost Programme. The new initiative was successfully piloted by Dairygold Co-operative to date and will now be rolled out nationally.

The overall initiative is supported by the Golden Jubilee Trust.

Supporting farmers to become ‘Champions4Climate’ and agents of change, the ICOS Skillnet training and development programme upskills farmers and advisers to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to implement climate mitigation, biodiversity enhancement and adaptation practices. It’s planned that this will become the foundational programme to be used as a stepping stone in education and training, in achieving carbon neutral objectives.

Dairygold Co-operative piloted the initiative with considerable success across 15 pilot farms and this will now be extended across over 2,700 Dairygold farms. 

Representatives of Winning Organisations of the Harvest Pearse Walsh Award for Innovation and Transfer of Learning: L-R Dr. Tom O’Dwyer (Teagasc), Billy Cronin (Dairygold), Breeda Flood (ICOS Skillnet) and Jerry Long (ICOS President) at the IITD National Training Awards 2022, Killashee, Naas, Kildare. Photo: Michael Donnelly. NO REPRO FEE / FREE TO USE.

Feedback from the participants allowed for further tailoring and development, resulting in a final programme for roll out to the broader industry. As it is scaled up nationally by ICOS Skillnet and Teagasc, the initiative will benefit over 16,500 farmers with sustainability training over the next 5 years and onwards.

Billy Goodburn, Head of Learning & Development at ICOS said,  “This programme equips participants with the necessary knowledge, skills and practical competencies to enact and demonstrate best practice sustainability. It informs, involves and empowers farmers to take ownership of their climate action plan for their own farms.”

Head of Teagasc Signpost Programme, Dr. Tom O’Dwyer said, “Teagasc is delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Dairygold and ICOS, and the participating farmers, to deliver an innovative training programme.  We are currently exploring how we can build on this experience, and make similar training available to all farmers.  The Signpost Programme is committed to supporting all farmers in climate action.”

Billy Cronin, Head of Supply Chain, Dairygold said, “Dairygold is committed to our sustainability journey and set out our plans in 2020 for a Carbon Footprint target of 0.7 Kg CO2/Kg FPCM (Fat & Protein Corrected Milk) by 2030 at farm level. This new innovative training programme was developed along with ICOS and Teagasc to guide Signpost farmers in implementing Dairygold’s five key pillars of sustainability, reducing agriculture emissions, improving water course quality, managing and improving on farm biodiversity, improving the economic sustainability of the farm enterprise and carbon reduction.

“This will equip our Signpost farmers to continue their sustainability journey and share their learnings across the wider milk supplier base through on farm events. One of the key principles of this training programme is that it is scalable. Dairygold has just completed our second training session with 39 employees who engage with the farming cohort on a daily basis. Dairygold will continue the development and roll out of this programme to our 2,700 Milk Suppliers during 2022. The core group of farmers, who are fully trained in the practical application of the Signpost farm programme, will in turn host a number of on-farm events, to showcase the practical implementation measures aligned with the Signpost programme.”

The programme consists of modules aligned to the National Climate Action Plan as well as the Green Deal,  Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies outlined at EU and national levels. Each iteration of the programme is 4-6 days in duration, run over a number of weeks.

The programme follows from a co-operative industry working group which established that there was a high demand for collaboratively based sustainability training, that would support farmer members of co-operatives, and which in turn would have a direct impact on supporting co-operatives to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Programme for Government and the recent Climate Action Amendment Bill 2020 has an objective to achieve ‘climate neutral economy’ by 2050 and the European Green Deal, including a Farm to Fork strategy and Biodiversity strategy sets out increasing climate obligations for the agri-food industry and agriculture in general.  Currently, 35% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the agriculture sector and 83% of emissions in the agriculture sector come from animals. 

The Government’s Climate Act 2021 commits Ireland to a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 and a reduction of 51% by 2030.  Knowledge transfer forms one of the key strategies aligned to the Climate Action plan.

ICOS Skillnet is the Learning and Development Division of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society.

ICOS Skillnet is co-funded by Skillnet Ireland and member companies. Skillnet Ireland is funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.