A New Beginning For Irish Farmers through Research & Development

There is little doubt that human Nutrition is the most important problem confronting mankind at the present time. The problem is one of both quantity and quality. It is estimated that at present two-thirds of the world’s population, of 2,800 millions are underfed and this population is increasing by geometrical progression at a rate that will double in the next hundred years.” Ref H.M. Sinclair D.M., M.A., B.Sc; M.R.C.P.; L.M.S.A. in a Foreword to Andre Voisin’s Book Soil, Grass and Cancer  – 1959. Now the world 50 years later certainly Sinclair’s estimate has proved a somewhat conservative, as it has reached 7 billions. Through the massive switch to Chemical fertilizer, water, farming and food mechanization the world hunger situation has somewhat abated, even though it has grown by over 4 billion – 143 percent in half a century. President Roosevelt was the first world leader in 1938 to warn about the depressed yields and quality of the food from U.S. crops; detrimentally affectingthe physical and economic security of the people of the nation.”.

 Voisin was a very famous Normandy Veterinary Professor and farmer. In his book he starts off “Remember that you are dust “the dust” of our cells is the dust of the soil. We should frequently meditate on the words of Ash Wednesday; “Man remember you are dust and that you will return to dust” That is not merely a religious and philosophical doctrine but a scientific truth which should be engraved above the entrance to every Faculty of Medicine throughout the world. We might then better remember that our cells are made up of the mineral elements which are to be found at any given moment in the soil of Normandy, Yorkshire or Australia; and if these “dusts” have been wrongly assembled in the plant, animal or human cells the result will be imperfect functioning of the latter. It particularly relates to Phosphorus an non renewable resource, which will be dealt with in detail at a later stage and our own limited Phosphate rock resource here in Ireland.

Voisin was reiterating what our own Professor E.J. Sheehy of Agriculture Faculty in U.C.D had written in his book ‘Animal Nutrition’ 1955. He noted, that from research work carried out, that a lot of the soils in post war Ireland were deficient in phosphate. This showed up particularly in old pasture and the hay or silage made from it. It was more widespread than what people realized. The Professor goes on to note the symptoms of the deficiency which was quite common on farms at the time.: ‘Phosphate deficiency in pasture affects both milch cows and grazing stock. In severe cases the cow’s yield a much reduced quantity of milk, the body becomes drawn up and hidebound, the gait becomes stilted, lameness and cramp set in, and there is a craving for extraneous materials such as sticks, stones, etc, and oestrus is deferred for long periods. The young stock make very slow growth and very poor weight for their age nothwithstanding liberal supplies of herbage. ………….There is some evidence that young horses grazing such land are likewise affected as shown by the development of “ founder”. In all such cases of aphosphorosis the level of phosphorus in the blood of affected stock is below normal’.  This mainly arose because of the difficulties of acquiring rock phosphate during the Second World War and compulsory tillage. However, other deficiencies were common in the Ireland proceeding modern day diet, which is of a international nature and oft time supplemented by the food processor. In the South Tipperary soils are naturally deficient in iodine and in the Glenville area of Co. Cork are deficient in Copper; in the pre and post war era, a lot of people in those areas suffered from the deficiency of those minerals; because they ate mainly the foods produced on their own farms. Dr. Garry Fleming of An Foras Taluntais did a lot of research work in trace elements in the years that followed and with modern crop and animal nutrition most of those problems faded into the background. One of the first most important technical developments was the emergence of ground limestone as a suitable source of neutralizing the large number of acid soils particularly for grain and sugar beet growers. Previously, liming was dependent on expensive and laborious burnt lime got from lime kilns. The Irish Sugar Company did a major lot of development of both lime and fertilizers through soil analyses for the Beet Growers. The Local Agricultural Instructor dealt with the subject in detail in their night classes to farmers and the Interparty government gave a transport subsidy of 16s per ton for ground limestone and £4 per ton subsidy on phosphate fertilizer was introduced in December 1957 under the Lemas led government.

In the 1960s thousands flocked to open days held in the Dairy Research Centre at Moorepark, to hear the latest from Drs Michael Walsh, Dan Browne, Pat McFeely etc on the experiments of cow to 0.8 of an acre, at 220 units of nutrient nitrogen per acre and 400 kgs of feed concentrate plus silage during the winter. Cows had to be taken off the grass paddocks by mid November and grazing started again on the 1st of March. At this particular time the Dutch were using at least double the amount of nitrogen and five times the meals, but their yields were about 50% higher than ours. Drs Jim O’Grady, and Tom Hanrahan were carrying research on the McGukian and Jordan type pig fattening houses, as they were in common use in Northern Ireland at that point in time. Similarly with the beef research unit at Grange Co. Meath under Dr. Joe Harte excellent research work was being carried out. 

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