The Walled Garden at Greenmount provided the picturesque backdrop for the recent launch of the 2016 Farming Life and Danske Bank awards.
Now in their sixth year, the awards have become a key date in the farming industry calendar, culminating in a gala ceremony at the Ramada Plaza, Belfast at the end of October.
Nominations are now open for all the categories, and with a closing date at the end of August, there is no excuse for not getting entries in on time.
Richard Wright was compere at the launch, and Michelle Shirlow of Food NI was also in attendance to outline some of the events behind the NI year of food and drink.
Welcoming the sponsors to the launch, Farming Life editor Ruth Rodgers thanked them for their support of the event, which first began in 2011.
She added: “It’s hard to believe that this will be the sixth year we will be holding the awards and we are so pleased to have so many of you here today as we look forward to this year’s event.
“Many of you have been on board as sponsors right from the inception of the awards and we would like to thank you for your support. In particular Danske Bank who have been our principal sponsor from the word go and who will continue as principal sponsor until after 2017. We have a number of other sponsors who have been on board from the beginning too – namely Moy Park, the Ulster Farmers’ Union and Simple Power and we would also like to thank you in particular for joining us on this journey back in 2011 and staying with us as our awards go from strength to strength.
“We are also delighted to welcome back a number of our established supporters in terms of sponsorship – Alltech, Cookstown, Tesco, AJS Promotions, the RSPB, Diane Dodds MEP, Budget Energy, BDO, Creagh Concrete, Lantra, and the Farm Safety Partnership.
“And as we are currently in the middle of the year of NI Food and Drink, a new category sponsored by JPH Law will focus on the artisan producers who have become a real growth industry here and who are helping to really set our province apart in terms of its food and drink offering,” said Mrs Rodgers.
“This year there will be no Farm Quality Assured category, but we are delighted that the Livestock and Meat Commission are remaining as a key partner and they will be sponsoring the main course at this year’s gala ceremony.
“I’m sure that you will agree that these awards are unique in that they are the only ones in Northern Ireland which recognise the contribution of the primary producer – the farmer.
“But they also go further and offer awards which cater for all members of the farming family, not just the men. Anyone who watched the recent programme on BBC2 ‘This Farming Life’ – will appreciate how diverse the industry is in terms of the main drivers in each individual business – women and young people too can be a real power house when it comes to the practical work on a farm and the business making decisions.
“And of course there will also be the other really important categories which reward farm safety and training, right through to our unsung heroes, farming champions and a person who has given a lifetime of contribution to the industry.
“This year the awards ceremony will take place on Thursday, 27 October in the Ramada at Shaws Bridge, which has proved to be an excellent venue for the event.
“And this year again we are pleased that Rural Support will be along on the night as our charity. I’m sure you will agree that the mentoring role they play within farming households which may be struggling, is even more important than before given the difficult time being experienced by all sectors.
“2015 was a difficult year and 2016 will prove no less challenging. While its hard not to focus on the challenges many are currently facing, its worth remembering also how much there is to be positive about.”
Speaking on behalf of principal sponsor Danske Bank, John Henning, head of agricultural relations, said each of the awards - since the inaugural competition back in 2011 - have been an undoubted success providing a wide-ranging celebration of achievement in our agri-food industry
He added: “And we are proud to have played a part in helping develop these awards which continue to go from strength to strength.
“Farming and food in Northern Ireland continues to be in. Today we have an industry where output from farming approaches £2billion; turnover from food and drink processing approaches £5bn; share of total employment remains significant and in which record numbers of young people want to study agriculture, equine, food and horticulture.
“At Danske Bank we are proud of our credentials as ‘the farmers bank’ and very conscious of the responsibility we have to continue supporting generations of farmers and businesses, by delivering dedicated relationship banking, as we have done in the past.
“This is particularly important at the present time with so many farming sectors facing very real challenges associated with poor global commodity prices and uncertainty around our future in Europe,” said Mr Henning.
“Dairy and pigs are facing particular challenges with no sign of any upturn in global prices in the short term despite the positive longer term outlook right across the agri food sector.
“So we are very aware of the importance of taking a longer term view of farming – as we have done for many years.
“It was William Jennings Bryan who once said: ‘Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.’
“Once again, in partnership with Farming Life, we are delighted to support these awards that showcase what’s great about our agri-food industry and help recognise those individuals, families and businesses that are at the very top of their game.
“The Farming Life Danske Bank Awards are all about ‘celebrating excellence in farming’ and across all of the farming, business and special recognition categories the competition seeks to recognise excellence using a wide range of criteria that should matter to all of those who make their living in this industry,” added Mr Henning.
“But the awards are not just about celebrating excellence in farming but also promoting NI Agriculture plc to an increasingly sceptical or critical audience. The challenges facing our industry are many and often driven by special interest groups with their own agendas – questioning animal welfare, industrial farming, the environment, GM, rural access and so on.
“So I really believe these awards can help dispel some of these myths and deliver an even more positive image for the brand – NI Agriculture plc – and don’t forget the #FLDBAwards16.
“And of course the climax of the Farming Life & Danske Bank Awards allows us all to recognise a lifetime of achievement and contribution to the world of agriculture.
And we also look forward to this year’s Awards against the backdrop of Food NI’s Year of Food and Drink 2016.
“So on behalf of Danske Bank – today represented by my colleagues Maureen Currie, Carol McMullan and myself – can I commend these Farming Life & Danske Bank Awards to you.”
Mr Henning added: “We hope you will all encourage lots of entries this year from your colleagues, friends, neighbours, suppliers, customers and others – right across the industry – to build on the success of these awards to date and help us all celebrate Northern Ireland’s farming life.”
All the food served at the launch of the 2016 awards was Northern Ireland produce, supplied by sponsors.