The beautiful Walled Gardens at Greenmount College, Co Antrim provided the picturesque backdrop for this week’s launch of the Farming Life and Danske Bank awards 2017.
Entries are now officially open for the annual farming showcase of excellence which is now in its seventh year.
A new website - www.jpnievents.co.uk - means it is even easier than ever before to submit your entry online to be in with a chance of taking home a coveted welly boot from the awards ceremony in October.
Farming Life editor Ruth Rodgers welcomed a wide range of sponsors to the event on Wednesday morning, which was chaired by journalist and commentator Richard Wright.
She added: “In particular I would like to say a big word of thanks to Danske Bank who have been our principal sponsor from the word go and who have been incredibly supportive in all that we have endeavoured to achieve.
“We have a number of other sponsors here today and I would like to say a big thank you to you also for your support of these awards. We particularly welcome representatives from Alltech, Moy Park, the Farm Safety Partnership, Cookstown, Lantra Awards, Creagh Concrete, the RSPB and AJS Promotions.
“And of course, we are looking forward to welcoming many more sponsors on board over the course of the next few months.”
She added: “I think it’s no exaggeration to say the awards are now established as one of the key dates for the farming industry here in Northern Ireland.
“Our event in 2016 helped to reinforce that as we trended on twitter for the second year running and had a huge response to our online and social media coverage on the night which helped to bring the good news stories of our winners to an even wider audience than before.
“This year again we have a wide range of categories recognising our primary producers and agri-food businesses, right through to training, safety and our special categories recognising our farming heroes, young farmer of the year and lifetime achievement. There is an extensive list with something to suit every area of the industry.
“This year we have decided for a change of venue so the awards ceremony will be taking place on Thursday, 19 October in the La Mon Hotel and Country Club, Castlereagh, which I am sure will prove to be a very popular location.”
Ruth paid tribute to John Henning, who retired at the end of the year from his role as head of agricultural relations at Danske Bank.
She added: “I would just like to pay tribute to John for all the hard work he carried out in relation to the awards each year. He played a pivotal role in their success and undertook his judging duties each year in a fair minded and professional manner. John also played a very important role at the awards ceremony itself on behalf of the bank.
“His input will be very much missed this year, but we are looking forward to the involvement of Robert McCullough, head of agriculture, and a number of his agri business managers, when judging gets underway in earnest later this year.”
Head of agriculture, Robert McCullough said Danske Bank was delighted to once again support the awards as principal sponsor in their seventh year.
“We are NI’s dedicated agribank with the largest team on the ground, living and working in rural locations around NI where local decisions have local impact and we saw that through the dairy crisis which is now thankfully behind us.
“Our responsibility and support to the industry is taken very seriously in all decision making and is underpinned by our core values supporting wider NI Society,” he added.
He said that over the past year there has been huge debate about sector prices, politics, support to renewables and of course Brexit.
Mr McCullough added: “Various commentators including ourselves have been keen to highlight the key issues which we feel need to be focused on in support of an industry which is the backbone not only of rural economies and society but also of our award winning agri food industry.
“I feel that we are well and ably represented by our industry leaders but unfortunately there is one empty chair at our side of the table in terms of negotiating key aspects of our regional requirements in a new post EU era. Hopefully this political vacuum can be filled in the near future and not be left open to exploitation.
“As an industry we do need to take comfort and be confident of our competitive position through the quality of the food that we grow.
“Do not underestimate the basic requirement of trust in the source of food and welfare standards and this has been highlighted in recent food scares that we all are familiar with. We are world leaders in the areas that consumer trends are focusing on.
“Today is about launching a celebration of the success of our farming industry and the wider agrifood business sector that it supports.
“Though the debates may rage and the politics get played, the key message for any farm or farm business is very simple...be the best you can at what you do. Goal posts may move and certainties may become less certain but good standards of management, technical efficiency and financial discipline will give any business the right platform to prevail and perform,” added Mr McCullough.
“Today we will launch our awards to encourage challenge among the best of the best which will hopefully identify winners across all categories who have proven excellence across a number of key measures.
“Our good farmers and businesses enjoy the challenge which they feel benchmarks them against the best and helps propel them to even greater levels of achievement.
“These are the people who take the industry forward with them as they embrace change, innovate, challenge the status quo and bring new ideas to reality and old ones to higher levels of success.
“This is of course all underpinned by world class support through AFBI, QUB and of course CAFRE to name but a few.”
Entries for the awards are open now.
Full details can be found at the website www.jpnievents.co.uk or from the advert in Farming Life.