Greyabbey farmer named as BGS Grassland Farmer of the Year 2019

BGS president Richard Simpson (left) presents John Martin with the BGS Grassland Farmer of the Year Award trophy
BGS president Richard Simpson (left) presents John Martin with the BGS Grassland Farmer of the Year Award trophy

The 2019 winner of the British Grassland Society’s prestigious Grassland Farmer of the Year competition is John Martin from Gordonall Farms, Greyabbey, Co Down in Northern Ireland.

The announcement was made at the BGS awards evening held at Beaumaris, Anglesey on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, hosted jointly by BGS and Anglesey Grassland Society.

John Martins sheep

John Martins sheep

The competition and awards evening are kindly sponsored by Germinal, Nufarm and Yara.

Farming near Strangford Lough, Mr Martin lambs 680 ewes split between two periods: mid-January to mid-February and mid-March to early April.

Replacement lambs are homebred, with the emphasis on a smaller, more prolific ewe to suit an intensive, rotationally grazed system.

Finished lambs are sold off grass by the end of November and with an overall stocking rate of 13 ewes/ha, the farm regularly produces 500kg of lamb carcass per hectare.

The judges quiz John Martin on his farm, left to right, Brent Gibbon of Nufarm, Philip Cosgrave of Yara, Steve Brandon, farmer and previous winner, John Martin and Richard Rogers who was the 2018 winner

The judges quiz John Martin on his farm, left to right, Brent Gibbon of Nufarm, Philip Cosgrave of Yara, Steve Brandon, farmer and previous winner, John Martin and Richard Rogers who was the 2018 winner

John has worked with the Agrifood and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in Northern Ireland as a co-researcher to develop easier care sheep systems, while also improving profitability.

Alongside the sheep flock, John runs a small number of beef cattle and a diversification enterprise growing short rotation coppiced willow to supply wood chip for biomass boilers.

Head judge Steve Brandon said: “The judging team was impressed by how John has developed the farm through innovation and working with research, utilising the farm’s ability to produce high yields of quality grass, which is then converted into a high level of profitable finished lamb.

“This has all been done alongside consideration for the environment, taking part in various environmental schemes to improve habitats for birds and other wildlife.”

Runners-up

Also attending the awards evening were two exceptional runners-up: Phil Asbury of Clive Hall Farm, Cheshire and Robert Cheriton of Aller Barton, Devon.

Phil Asbury, operating under a contract farming agreement with Grasslands Farming, runs a 210-cow spring block calving herd of New Zealand Friesians and Jersey cross Friesians.

Of the total milk yield, 69% comes from grazed grass and concentrate usage is 700 kg/cow.

The judges highlighted the “tremendous amount of emphasis placed on planning, setting budgets and KPI’s, with the focus on utilising the high yields of grass produced”.

Robert Cheriton returned to his home farm six years ago after a spell in New Zealand.

The herd of 250 crossbred cows now calve in a tight pattern from late August to the end of November and produce 52% of the total milk yield from forage.

Paddock grazing and the reseeding of underperforming fields has helped to increase the stocking rate to 3.4 LU/ha across the grazing platform.

The judges felt that this young 26-year-old farmer should be congratulated on what he has achieved so far.

Summarising the competition Steve Brandon said: “All three finalists should be commended for their appreciation of what well-managed and measured grassland can contribute to a farm’s profitability.”