Occupation: I am a communications assistant at the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and the Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend (BOIOFW) schools’ co-ordinator.
Farming commodity: I live on a fifth-generation dairy farm, home to 250 pedigree Holstein, Jersey and Shorthorn cattle and a 135 strong dairy herd.
Working full-time and having just finished my Masters in Business, Agri-Food and Rural Enterprise with communications at CAFRE, I still enjoy being involved on the family farm and lending a helping hand. Whether it is showing cattle at local agricultural shows, filling a gap when moving livestock, checking the young stock or covering the silo pit – there is always a job to do!
How did you become
involved in farming?
Having grown up on our family farm and with my parents being greatly involved in many farming organisations, there were always plenty of jobs to be completed such as feeding calves and pet lambs, bedding cubicles and providing assistance off the farm on the show circuit.
I joined Seskinore Young Farmers’ Club 15 years ago. Having held many office bearer positions and participating in the various competitions such as stock judging, public speaking, one act drama, floral art, tag rugby and group debating, the competitions greatly enhanced my life skills. Through YFCU I was extremely lucky to be a part of the International Miss Macra festival and Queen of the Land where I made many contacts from across the UK and Ireland that have assisted me in my career today.
Sitting on my mummy’s knee in the milking parlour wanting to be involved in all the action. I had the big job of opening the gate to let the cows out of the parlour and when I was older, spraying the cows’ teats and milking ‘my very own’ cow ‘304’. Growing up, I wanted to be out helping my family on the farm, assisting Granda when it came to feeding the calves and learning all the tricks of the trade, hopefully earning a few bob or two along the way – two-pound coins spring to mind!
What personal characteristics did you develop from agriculture?
To be resilient, have a good work ethic, communication skills (particularly important when moving cattle), patience and problem solving.
Life lesson you learnt from farming:
Along with the good days, unfortunately there will be bad ones too, but everything can be mended. As the saying goes, “every day is a school day!” The farming community are very creative and adaptable, when a job needs done or there is a breakdown, they will always come up with a solution. Working hard and having fun can happen at the same time. It is important to have a work life balance and to take a break, putting yourself first.
What do you enjoy most about the farming lifestyle?
The farming community and seeing first hand their passion, care and determination to do everything to the best of their ability. Whether you are out walking in the countryside, checking livestock, bringing in the cows for the milking or attending the local mart or agricultural show, your neighbours will stop for a yarn, lend a helping hand in times of need or provide some advice! This was evident over the past two years where the farming community rallied around one another, providing hot meals to the vulnerable, lifted prescriptions, or made a telephone call to check in on a neighbour.
With farming, no two days are the same! Alongside the challenges there are many opportunities which we should grasp with both hands. Farming is constantly changing with climate change solutions, technological advancements and new legislation.
Describe a farmer in three words: Resilient, passionate and optimistic.
What would you like the public to know about NI farming?
Farming is not a 9-5 job, for many, it is a way of life. Over the years the connection between farmers and consumers has become severed. It is vital that children and the public have every opportunity to learn about local food production in NI. From its farm origins and production process to the importance of our unique family farm structure. Farmers produce high-quality food, contribute to shaping our iconic green landscape in NI and create different environments which support our economy by providing employment, supporting rural communities, tourism and recreation. Farmers have a fantastic story to tell, and they should be proud to do so.
In NI, we have great initiatives and resources showcasing the positive work our farmers do and the ‘farm to fork’ story. From BOIOFW and the schools’ competition, the UFU and Agri Aware’s ‘Dig in!’ resource and the Livestock and Meat Commission’s in school cookery demonstrations.
If you could give farmers/farming families/ farming community one piece of advice what would it be?
Communication and adaptability are essential. It is important for the farming community to talk and support one another, and always remember that you are not alone. Whether it is learning tips and tricks off each other through UFU, YFCU and Business Development Group meetings or talking to a neighbour or family member, those few minutes of conversation could ease someone else’s burden or turn a half an hour job into 10 minutes. In NI we are very fortunate to have local charity, Rural Support, which provides a confidential listening and mentoring service for farmers and their families.
What would you say to others who are considering a career in the agri industry?
Seize every opportunity! The agri industry has an abundance of career opportunities out there from being the farmer at home to food technology, horticulture, veterinary, nutritionist and so much more. Having a good balance of practical experience is extremely helpful and remember it is never too late to start learning. In NI we are extremely lucky to have a variety of part-time courses available to those who want to upskill or continue learning whilst working such as CAFRE, the Farm Family Key Skills and UFU training division courses.
What are your hopes for the future of Northern Ireland’s agriculture industry?
Women have always played a key role in farm businesses and the wider industry – quite often behind the scenes. There is no doubt that the agri-food industry has shifted with women’s expertise becoming more recognised and many females holding leadership roles - I hope this continues in the future.
Our family farms need to be recognised, rewarded and supported for their efforts producing high-quality produce, which consumers can trust. In turn, farmers need to receive fair prices, with the cost of living and input prices soaring alongside the ongoing war in Ukraine. I hope that our unique family farm structure in NI continues to be sustainable and profitable in the future, for the next generation to flourish and continue feeding the nation with our local, homegrown produce.