Local producers win M&S Farming for the Future awards

Alexander Lyttle (Winner of the M&S Young Producer Award), Chris Moncrief (Winner of the M&S Outstanding UK Producer Award), Jonathan Ewing (Winner of the M&S Innovation Award), John Dobson (Winner of the Outstanding Producer Award) and David Morrow from Glens of Antrim Potatoes Ltd (Winner of the Princes Trust Countryside Fund Contribution to Rural Communities Award).
Alexander Lyttle (Winner of the M&S Young Producer Award), Chris Moncrief (Winner of the M&S Outstanding UK Producer Award), Jonathan Ewing (Winner of the M&S Innovation Award), John Dobson (Winner of the Outstanding Producer Award) and David Morrow from Glens of Antrim Potatoes Ltd (Winner of the Princes Trust Countryside Fund Contribution to Rural Communities Award).

Local producers for Marks & Spencer have been rewarded for their excellence in farming at a M&S ‘Farming for the Future’ Awards presentation, which took place at the Balmoral Show.

The winners were as follows:

Innovation Award – Jonathan Ewing, Mulnagore, Co. Tyrone; Outstanding Producer Award – John Dobson, Waringstown, Co. Armagh; Contribution to Rural Communities Award (Prince’s Trust Countryside Fund) – Glens of Antrim Potatoes Ltd, Cushendall, Ballymena, Co. Antrim; Young Producer Award – Alexander Lyttle, Newtownards, Co. Down.

Jonathan Ewing, from Mulnagore, Co. Tyrone scooped the Innovation Award which recognises producers who are pushing the boundaries in their sector.

Jonathan’s attention to detail has helped him to establish a successful and efficient free range egg enterprise after making the switch from broiler chicken rearing.

Jonathan has a lot of experience in the poultry industry, having started out in broiler production in 1996. The business expanded extensively over the years to five chicken houses, but the decision was taken to switch over to egg production in 2010. The farm is now converting to free range egg production and the first 16,000 free range hens were housed earlier this year, providing eggs to M&S through Skea Eggs.

In order to maintain a profitable business and produce the best quality eggs, Jonathan has had to embrace changes and innovation across all aspects of his farm enterprise, from housing to green energy.

A computerised ventilation system is used to ensure that chicken houses are kept at an optimum temperature across the whole farm, to maintain hen welfare and manage feed intakes.

Technology is also employed to keep energy costs, one of the largest overheads on the farm, down. As such, Jonathan has invested considerably in renewable energy, installing photovoltaic panels which help to meet most of the farm’s energy requirements.

The judges were particularly impressed with Jonathan’s use of technology to address animal welfare and efficiency, his innovative approach to recycling waste and his drive to create a sustainable business for future generations.

John Dobson from Waringstown, Co. Armagh scooped the Outstanding Producer Award which champions forward-thinking individuals whose technical ability or business aptitude promises to make a positive impact on their sector.

John runs an Aberdeen Angus suckler herd, supplying beef to M&S through Linden Foods.

Meeting with, and learning from, world-renowned beef farmers in the US, Canada and across Europe, John has used his wealth of experience to innovate, enhance and expand his herd to become one of Northern Ireland’s leading beef finishers.

Through regular soil and grass analysis John ensures the finest quality forage is produced for his herd, which is supplemented by grain and cereal crops also grown on the farm.

In order to produce the best beef cattle possible, John has spent decades researching animal genomics to ensure that he finds the best bulls to match his cows, as well as constantly working to optimise performance through adaptations to diet and housing.

This attention to detail results in consistent top herd performance, with beef cattle achieving excellent weight gains. All John’s steers are finished at 18 months at an average weight of 372kg.

John’s consistent industry-leading performance is highly valued by Linden Foods, enabling them to benchmark and compare the efficiency and success of other beef producers against the results that he is able to achieve.

In conjunction with Linden Foods, John shares his expertise and knowledge with other beef producers. Hosting a number of farm visits, the most recent in March, where John welcomes fellow Aberdeen Angus producers to Hermitage Farm.

The judges were particularly impressed with John’s willingness to share good practice with fellow farmers, his leading performance within the Linden supply base and his attention to detail in all aspects of farm management.

Glens of Antrim Potatoes Ltd, based in Cushendall, Ballymena scooped the Prince’s Trust Countryside Fund ‘Contribution to Rural Communities Award’ Award which champions producers in the food supply chain who are going the extra mile to help support local rural communities.

Glens of Antrim is a business that grows and packs a range of potatoes across Ireland.

Set within an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the company is passionate about preserving the local landscape and has implemented a number of environmental policies, such as a zero-waste policy, to limit its impact on the local area.

The business has brought about the revival of the Irish Lumper potato, a variety that fell out of use after the Great Famine in Ireland in 1845. This historic potato is now used as part of a heritage project run by the company; providing seed potatoes to school students, encouraging them to plant and grow their own potatoes, as well as learning about the history surrounding their use across Ireland.

Glens of Antrim also has strong links with the local community surrounding the company’s base, through sponsorship of key local events such as the Heart of the Glens Festival and the Glens of Antrim Triathlon. Local schools, clubs and youth groups are also encouraged to visit the business to gain an insight into the company’s work. Various members of staff also regularly deliver talks and presentations to clubs and societies out of office hours.

The judges were particularly impressed with Glens of Antrim’s support of the local community and community activities, their work to revive a historic potato variety and commitment to the health of company staff.

Alexander Lyttle who farms alongside his father and mother, Roy and Sheila Lyttle, in Co. Down, scooped the Young Producer Award which champions forward-thinking individuals whose technical ability or business aptitude promises to make a positive impact on their sector, and who demonstrate they have what it takes to lead the next generation of farmers.

Roy Lyttle Limited produces a range of seasonal vegetables, including spring onions, leeks, celery, beetroot and chives and is located in an area of Special Scientific Interest on the Ards Peninsula in Co. Down.

The business is owned by Roy and Sheila, with 24-year-old Alexander playing a very active role in running the vegetable growing enterprise; helping to manage 130 acres of vegetable crops, 65 acres of cereals and up to 35 members of staff.

Alexander officially joined the family business in 2013, having completed a full-time Foundation Degree in Horticulture at Greenmount Agricultural College, where he had the opportunity to study a diverse range of subjects from sustainability to business development.

Since working full time, he has had a significant influence on the farm’s development, adding to the range of products, overseeing the construction of a purpose-built chemical store and sprayer filling area, managing cover crops and grass margins to reduce the exposed soil, as well as implementing schemes which have increased wildlife on the farm.

The judges were particularly impressed with Alexander’s enthusiasm and contribution to develop the family business, his engagement with the public on food and farming, and commitment to a variety of green projects on the farm.

Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture and Fisheries at M&S, said: “The Farming for the Future awards are now in their tenth year, acknowledging the dedication and commitment our farmers and growers are making towards Plan A and sharing best practice amongst the agricultural community across Ireland and the UK.

“We have four very worthy winners and they have proved this by demonstrating their innovative thinking, commercial success and social responsibility in the way they manage and execute their businesses.”

Open to M&S local and international producers, the Farming for the Future Awards celebrate the important role suppliers play in working towards M&S’ Plan A commitments, which include: being carbon neutral; sending no waste to landfill; sustainable sourcing; setting new standards in ethical trading; helping customers and employees live a healthier lifestyle.

The winners each received £500 in M&S vouchers for their awards and have been entered into an ‘Overall Farming for the Future Champion Award’ for 2017, to be presented later this year.