Making a Difference for the Environment

Neilie Hurley


Cornelius ‘Neilie’ Hurley


Dunederrow, Co. Cork

Farm Type:

Suckler Beef Breeder

Farm Size:

23 Hectares

1. Overview of Neilie Hurley

Neilie Hurley manages a suckler breeding enterprise near Innishannon in Co. Cork which caters to the breeding market. He is working to mitigate his farm’s carbon footprint through his active involvement in the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP) and he’s also recently enrolled in the Agri-Climate Rural Environmental Scheme (ACRES). Through ACRES, he hopes to increase the quantity of hedgerow on his farm, as well as planting a woodland. 

2. Introduction

Neilie’s farm has gone through many changes over the years. His family bought the farm in the 1960s and they began their farming journey by fattening cattle and sheep. Over time, the farm transitioned to a weanling to beef system. Neilie took over the family farm in the 1990s. As the second-generation farmer, he first farmed on a part-time basis until 2022, when he retired from his job at the local pharmaceutical plant. In the early 2000s, Neilie bought some suckler cows and quickly saw the benefits:

“With the suckler cows, whatever we were producing in the year, it was paying our bills, and we didn’t have to go back and buy store cattle again.”

Neilie explains, “We evolved from that then and bought a couple of Aberdeen Angus heifers. Now we are all Aberdeen Angus because we found a ready market for the bulls.” The sheep are now gone, and today, Neilie manages 25 suckler cattle on his 23-hectare farm.


3. Beef Efficiency Schemes

Prior to SCEP, Neilie had participated in the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) and the Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme (BEEP). Beyond the financial incentives, Neilie found the structure of these programmes, such as the weighing measures and genotyping initiatives, to be immensely beneficial and in alignment with his own farming practices. The emphasis on carbon efficiency has led him to be more environmentally conscious. Neilie remarked that it “pushes you in the direction of improving your carbon footprint, especially for the beef.”

4. Carbon Sequestration

For Neilie, actions taken under BDGP and BEEP in the past and currently under SCEP have all contributed to the streamlining of his operations and allows for more informed decision-making. He now intentionally integrates carbon efficiency considerations into his grassland management practices.

“Once we’re thinking of carbon, we’re thinking of what’s around the field as well… Our grassland is much more focused on carbon efficiency.”

This strategic shift in perspective has led to environmental and economic gains for Neilie. His herd is becoming more efficient by reaching their target weights earlier with less greenhouse gases (GHG) being produced.

5. Soil Health

Neilie’s decision to introduce clover into his pastures is another step towards sustainability. Clover is a nitrogen-fixing legume that not only enriches the soil but also means less expensive chemical nitrogen inputs are needed to grow grass. Apart from the obvious financial benefit, the environmental upshot of this is there is less nitrous oxide being lost to the air and less danger of nutrients running off into nearby waterways.

6. Investing in Green Architecture

Neilie has been accepted into the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) with an aim to enhance the habitat percentage of his farm from roughly 8% to over 12%.  So far, he has planted an extra 350m of hedgerow and .5ha of woodland which is strategically situated to act as a shelter belt. He also chose the hedge laying option in ACRES and has finished laying 250m of established hedgerow. Neilie hopes these actions will improve the ecological quality of his farm and will help him do his ‘bit for the environment’.  The environmental benefit of hedgerows include carbon being captured as the hedgerows grow and a significant increase in habitat for wildlife on his farm.  Payments from such schemes allow for more investment in farm infrastructure such as sheds.   

Neilie believes the hedgerows he planted for a previous scheme also provided an unforeseen benefit beyond ecological conservation or carbon efficiency. For example, on one wet, windy night, Neilie went to check on his cattle. He found them lined up uniformly against the hedgerow as it provided protection from the wind as if it was a solid brick wall, demonstrating to him the additional benefits of planting such hedgerows on exposed land.  

7. Conclusion

Neilie is a firm believer that programmes like SCEP and ACRES will play a vital role in sustaining family farms across Ireland. For him, family farms are the cornerstones of rural communities and are key contributors to local employment and local economies. He also notes that these programmes encourage farmers to become more environmentally conscious.

“These schemes are going to keep people on the land, rather than lose interest in it.”

Neilie also highlights the role farmers play as stewards of the land as well as the role family farms play in sustaining rural communities. Farmers like Neilie are showing that it is possible to run high quality beef production systems alongside high-quality ecological habitats. Through participation in SCEP and similar initiatives, the legacy of family farms, vibrant rural communities, and a healthier planet can endure for generations to come.

Further information on the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP) can be found here. More details about the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme can be found here.