Norman Dunne along with his father Michael Dunne, run a 400-acre tillage farm outside Maynooth, Co. Kildare. The land has been under intensive tillage production for years. About four years ago Norman and his father decided it was time to move away from conventional, intensive tillage and implement a regenerative farming system operating under the principles of conservation agriculture.
Cereals grown on the farm include beans, oats, barley and wheat for the animal feed market. Norman also produces hay for the equine market. The family keep a small number of pigs and sheep to graze cover crops and pasture. Participants of the Danú EIP Project and members of BASE Ireland, the focus has been on regenerating soil biology and reducing external inputs where possible on the farm. Cereal crops are grown on the land using minimal disturbance methods like direct drilling and/or min-till. Crop rotations and permanent organic soil cover systems are in place. Additionally, multi-species cover crops are used to build soil fertility and enhance soil structure, all the while providing a food source for pollinating insects. Norman is also experimenting with Biodynamic preparations and Korean Natural Farming methods to enhance the soil biology and to inoculate seeds before sowing – “You're getting the seeds off to the best possible start that you can give them by inoculating it with something biological rather than something chemical. It encourages with the bond between the seed and the soil. It’s a natural defense from pathogens. It's like colostrum for a baby.”
Since the reintroduction of regenerative farming methods on the land, there has been a significant increase in biodiversity and a return of numerous bird species to the farm - “Biodiversity has exploded on the land here in the past 3 or 4 years. There are birds here now that I have never seen on the farm before.” Norman and Michael have enjoyed seeing the return of barn owls, skylarks, sparrowhawks, kestrels, buzzards, woodpeckers, wood pigeons, lapwings, yellowhammers and more.
Norman is an arable farm near Maynooth in Co. Kildare. I first met him 5 years ago on a Soils Course given by David Wallis. Like me, he is moving his farm to a regenerative system and we are both members of the Danu EIP Group. In contrast to mine, his soils are heavy and clay-based and he faces a different range of challenges. He is not afraid to innovate and has adapted various natural approaches, including elements of biodynamic and Korean Natural farming, into his substantial commercial farm. Norman runs the farm with his father Michael, who is also coming around to doing things in new ways. There is a very productive dynamic between them with Michael's long experience guiding Norman's youthful vigour. He is frank and honest about his failures as well as his successes and, while never confrontational, will make his point to those prepared to listen. I believe that his situation as a young man with a growing family, adopting a new approach to farming while working with an older generation, will resonate with many others. His cheerful directness and patent lack of artifice should also combine to make him a suitable Ambassador for Nature.
Nominator: Andrew Bergin, FFN Ambassador