Situated in the heart of Ireland, Gurteen College provides its students with quality education in pleasant surroundings. Irish Tractor Agri & Plant caught up with its Farm Manager Ken Flynn to more hear about the programmes they have on offer and the latest additions to what is Ireland’s biggest college farm.
Seventy-five years on from its inception and Gurteen College remains one of the country’s most foremost agricultural colleges.
Offering students training courses in agriculture for farms and rural enterprises, the college provides a solid foundation for progression to higher level courses and future careers.
As well as this, Gurteen College possesses the largest college farm in all of Ireland as it sits on 1,000 acres in Ballingarry, Co Tipperary.
Irish Tractor Agri & Plant touched base with Ken Flynn, who has been the college’s farm manager for the last six years now, to learn more.
“There’s 1,000 acres in total here, which would be made up of 100 acres of tillage, 80 acres of willow that we used to heat the college, 100 acres of forestry, 100 acres of bog land the remainder is grassland plus yards and roadways,” Ken outlined.
“We’re currently milking 238 cows this year and we have been building that up over the years with our own breeding. We also have 70 suckler cows and, for educational purposes, they’re split between autumn and spring calving. We also finish 140 cattle per year. We’ve 450 ewes as well and we’re producing 1.3 million litres of milk a year here and also have equine facilities as well.
“Currently, we have no horses but we have plans in place that within the next 12 months we’ll have a new equine course up and running which will bring horses back onsite.
“The other big news on the education front is that in September we are going to be starting a Level 7 and Level 8 degree program which will be in conjunction with Technical University Shannon (TUS).”
On farm itself there are six full-time staff employed and, on the student end, there was 75 first year students enrolled at Gurteen College this past year.
After that, there were 45 second year Level 6 students studying at the college and over 300 students doing part-time courses.
This year saw some sort of normality returned to for students and staff alike after the Covid-19 pandemic, and government lockdowns which followed to try and fight the spread of the virus, saw so much change drastically overnight.
“We had to adapt our teaching practices very quickly,” said Ken. “All the education facilities closed and had to move online and we were quite lucky for the first lockdown in that we had most of our practical teaching and assessment already covered.
“After that, we were able to do theory online and then for the following year we had the online teaching figured out. Working within the restrictions, we were able to have some students on site at times and other students at home doing online learning.
“We developed a schedule to mix and match. We had some students here and some doing online learning all the time and that meant that we were staying within the restrictions of people we could have on site while getting through the education work.
“There was a lot of challenges but we managed to make it work.”
Things are much more familiar looking now inside the corridors of Gurteen College and out on its farm.
The classes have moved from online back into the classroom and out in the field, with courses that are aimed to provide training in practical areas.
“It’s a much more normal place now,” Ken outlined. “I suppose it felt quite different when there were no students here because it went from being a very busy place with lots going on, to feeling like the farm was much more of a commercial farm instead of having different students out for practicals and farm practice because it was just the farm staff here.
“For a period of time, everybody else was working from home bar the farm staff, canteen staff and maintenance. All the teachers and all the students were at home.”
The college’s farm has added some new machinery this year, too.
A brand new Abbey 3,500-gallon Tandem Axle slurry tanker with a trailing shoe, a 10 foot mounted Krone mower and a McHale Fusion 3 Plus have received rave reviews since being purchased.
The McHale Fusion 3 Plus sees a move to a combi unit this year, having used the conventional baler and a separate wrapper for years.
Looking ahead, Gurteen College’s Farm Manager is very much optimistic for what’s around the corner.
With plenty of targets to be met, next year will be a busy one for Ken and the staff on the farm and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’re now part of the Signpost programme as we’re one of the Signposts farms, so there’s a big environmental drive on,” he said.
“Some of our targets are that we reduce our nitrogen use by 10 kilos per hectare and we also hope to incorporate more clover and multi species swards to try and reduce our need on chemical fertiliser.
“Our other big hopes are that with this degree program that we can have growing numbers of students every year and that we get our equine course back up and running and have horses on site here again.
“We’ve developed a program now for hedge-cutting, so that hedges are cut on three-year rotational program to try and encourage biodiversity. Then we also have plans to incorporating more tree planting into field corners and hedges as well.”
He concluded: “the other ambition is that this time next year we have 250 cows milking and to continue to provide practical hands-on learning for farmers and train them in a profitable sustainable manner.”
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 10 No 5, September/October 2022