While efforts continue apace to develop a Land Mobility Programme in Northern Ireland - one which will serve to encourage increasing number of young people into the production agriculture – the good news is that the ABP Food Group has succeeded, courtesy of its own vision, in pushing forward the boundaries of this crucial debate in a more than meaningful way.
Courtesy of its ‘Angus Youth Challenge’ initiative, developed with the Northern Irish Angus Producer Group, the company is demonstrating the role which young people can play at the very heart of the beef industry.
There is a £1,000 cash prize on offer for the overall winning school or club. The initiative will see an accurate record kept of all the costings involved in rearing Angus cross cattle awarded by ABP to finalist teams. In addition, the finalists can specifically avail of the advice available from the ABP Blade Farming team.
But more than this, the competition has also succeeded in attracting young people – with no farming background whatsoever – to look more actively at careers in agri food.
A case in point is the team of five students from Belfast Royal Academy (B.R.A.), who were selected as finalists for the competition phase kick started in the autumn of 2017.
For the past 17 months the team at the North Belfast school have been managing a group of five Angus-cross steers and heifers awarded to them compliments of ABP’s Blade Farming system. The students in question are: Lorcan Convery, Rachel Duff, Hannah Hill, Charlotte Storey, and Laura Meek. All have recently completed their ‘AS’ studies at B.R.A.
Not living on a farm isn’t a barrier to entry for the competition. Not one of the five members of the B.R.A team has a farming background: their ability to manage the cattle came about courtesy of the involvement of Andrew Bell, who heads up the Biology department at B.R.A. He commented: “The school, which is the oldest in Belfast City, was delighted to have been selected on to the finalist programme. I run a beef unit at home on the outskirts of Stewartstown in Co Tyrone. So, it was the obvious option for me to propose that the five Angus calves should be brought to my own family farm if we made it through as finalists.
“But everyone within the team has been equally involved in making the various management decisions, where the cattle are concerned.
“I am delighted to confirm that all the animals have reached their growth targets up to this point.”
Andrew continued: “The competition has caught the interest of everyone at B.R.A. In a very direct way, it has served to raise the profile of farming at the school and the important role the industry plays at the very heart of the local economy.
“For their part, the five team members have really embraced the ‘Challenge’. It has forced them think outside the box while also helping them to improve a range of work-life skills.
“I am delighted to confirm that all the animals have reached their growth targets up to this point. They’ll be finished by the early Autumn and the pupils will then pocket the profit from their sale to ABP.”
But managing the cattle is only a small part of the challenge confronting the B.R.A. team. Their success will also be assessed on an assignment they have been working on during the past year detailing how new thinking can be brought to bear within the beef sector. Lorcan Convery who is interested in pursuing a career in business takes up the story: “We are looking at the prospects of farmers working with outside investors in ways that will allow both parties to generate a return on the investment they have made.
“We are using the opportunity of rearing the calves through to finishing to see if it is feasible to attract outside money to be targeted at production agriculture.
“This means taking all the costs and weighing them up against the final value of the cattle and the subsidies that are available.
“At the end of the day, there has to be a return on investment for those involved. We believe that our results will show this is possible. There is very much an onus on the farmer to meet the highest management standards.”
Meanwhile the cattle – three steers and two heifers - have become firm favourites with all the pupils at B.R.A. They made a ‘guest appearance’ at the school’s open-air production of The Sound of Music in July 2018.
Rachel, who is hoping to become a vet, confirmed that the cattle have also been named after the various Houses at the school: Cairns (heifer), Pottinger (heifer), Currie (steer) and Shaw. That leaves the steer Crombie, who was named after the main building at B.R.A.
Such has been the impact of the competition at the school that it has also encouraged the establishment of a new after-school club within the school - christened ‘The Grass Roots’ Society’ to create a focal point for those pupils who are interested in agriculture and rural pursuits.
“In the last academic year when it was set up it comprises a membership of 31,” confirmed Andrew.
“This may well grow once the new school year progresses. All of this is highly significant as it is giving young people with no background in farming an opportunity to hear, at first hand, about the significance of the industry to the economy of Northern Ireland.”
The five Angus cattle were bred on local dairy farms. They are all at grass and weigh in the region of 560kgs.
“The plan is to put them on a finishing ration over the coming weeks,” said Andrew. “They should reach their finishing weights later in the autumn.”
Meanwhile, ABP is delighted with the impact the Angus Youth Challenge is having right across Northern Ireland.
“There is now a strong awareness that the average age of farmers in Northern Ireland is high. Therefore, encouraging young people into the industry is something ABP is committed to. There are opportunities right across the entire scope of the beef sector with ABP, from primary production through to processing and marketing,” commented ABP’s Head of Supply Chain Development, Liam McCarthy.
“The ABP Angus Youth Challenge was conceived as a means of encouraging teenagers to consider developing careers within the beef sector and to put their skills to best use across the industry. It’s also helping to bring a balanced perspective about locally produced beef to younger consumers.”
He continued: “Critically, the ABP Angus Youth Challenge has a strong focus on how best to manage cattle on farm. It also provides a mechanism by which those participating can improve their communication, teamwork and employability skills whilst gaining hands-on experience of the beef industry.”
The ABP Angus Youth Challenge 2019-2021 is now open for entries from teams of 14-16 year olds from any Northern Ireland school, club or society, or a group of friends. Entries close at noon, 29th November 2019. Visit www.abpangusyouthchallenge.com