Strangford Down completes 25 years

Chief Executive of the Ulster Farmers Union, Wesley Aston was the guest speaker at a recent meeting of Strangford Down and is pictured here with the Chairman James Henderson and Business Executive Crosby Cleland.
Chief Executive of the Ulster Farmers Union, Wesley Aston was the guest speaker at a recent meeting of Strangford Down and is pictured here with the Chairman James Henderson and Business Executive Crosby Cleland.
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The spring of 2015 has got the year off to a good start with no major weather events making the headlines.

For most of lambing time, the climatic conditions were favourable and could even be described as pleasant. Settled and predictable conditions make the job so much easier when hypothermia and heat lamps are not part of the experience.

Strangford Down member William Bassett chats with guest speaker Wesley Aston, CEO of the Ulster Farmers Union.

Strangford Down member William Bassett chats with guest speaker Wesley Aston, CEO of the Ulster Farmers Union.

Strangford Down Chairman James Henderson believes there is a lot to be thankful for with the easier lambing period over the past few months. Two years ago the weather had taken a severe turn for the worse during the traditional lambing period when many sheep, lambs and even cattle were lost in what we would hope was a once in a lifetime event.

The farmers co-operative Strangford Down has now completed twenty five years and is looking forward to a year of continued growth in its efforts to provide a service to the farmers of County Down. The group is involved in the marketing of lambs, ewes and cattle supplying local meat plants with prime produce.

The green fields of Down yield a superb product and Strangford Down lambs find their way onto the shelves of the likes of Marks and Spencer and Tesco. Around 17,000 lambs were supplied last year to Linden Foods in Dungannon.

The organisation’s Marketing Director Alan Montgomery liaises with the factory and annual throughput of lambs is on the increase. There are four loading points at Saintfield, Kilkeel, Greyabbey and Rathfriland to collect lambs from a wide area of County Down. Weights and grades are available by e mail within hours of processing at the factory and the knowledge gained is then applied when selecting stock for the following week.

EID tag reading has been introduced on the line so that the individual weights and grades can be linked to individual animals. This is the key to genetic progress and development and is vital information when selecting breeding stock.

Crosby Cleland, the group’s Business Executive, analyses the data and monitors trends year on year. Factors such as weather and its influence on finishing times can be seen. Prices in the UK and in the South are collected and collated on a weekly basis keeping a finger on the pulse of the industry.

Wesley Aston, the Policy Director with the Ulster Farmers Union, and more recently appointed Chief Executive Designate, addressed a recent meeting of the group. With his background in troubleshooting through difficult periods in Northern Ireland’s farming since joining the UFU in 1991. Wesley proved to be a fount of knowledge.

Coming from a practical farming experience on the family farm in Markethill and being involved with the formation of the Armagh Lamb Marketing Group, he had the insight of a man on the ground.

In the past he has dealt with problems which have hit the industry such as diseases, feed problems and more recently EID issues. The current problem is the labelling which is required since the beginning of April. The principle of printing information on the country of birth, reared and slaughtered offers informed choice but in the case of lamb, at the moment, this has worked against the sheep industry with southern buyers not coming north for their usual supplies. A resolution to this problem is urgently required.

Strangford Down welcomes new members who, in addition to marketing livestock, can avail of the purchasing schemes for fuel, meal, veterinary products, sprays, grass seed and more.

Keeping farmers up to speed in this increasingly complex industry is one of the aims and training courses are arranged with, for example, Parklands Veterinary Group on a variety of relevant topics. There is also a trip organised for a farm tour plus massive sheep event run by Teagasc in Athenry. This will take place on 19th and 20th June. The Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre located in Co. Galway provides national research services in sheep production and animal reproduction.

Further details on the activities of Strangford Down can be obtained by contacting Crosby Cleland on 07525 237 233.