A local producer for Marks & Spencer has been rewarded for his talent as an inspirational young producer at a M&S ‘Farming for the Future’ Award presentation, which took place at the Balmoral Show.
Noel Hooke from Co. Down scooped the Young Producer Award which champions forward-thinking individuals whose technical ability or business aptitude promises to make a positive impact on their sector, and who demonstrate they have what it takes to lead the next generation of farmers.
A beef producer for Linden Foods, Noel has travelled the world working with top pedigree cattle herds to gain a wealth of knowledge in breeding and preparing cattle. At the age of 18, he won an Aberdeen Angus competition in Australia.
He recently returned to the family farm and is keen to use his knowledge to make a difference to the family’s beef finishing enterprise, which supplies M&S through local meat supplier Linden Foods.
Grassland management is a key area where Noel is making progress, using ideas from New Zealand. On the farm he has implemented a rotational grazing system of small paddocks and has begun a comprehensive reseeding programme, monitoring new grass through regular soil sampling.
Noel and his father are also building a new, 120 capacity calf shed, to accommodate another of Noel’s expanding business ventures. Here, Noel is selling bulls from his small Aberdeen Angus herd to local dairy farmers at a competitive price, with the understanding that he gets the first opportunity to buy back the Aberdeen Angus dropped calves from that farm.
Noel said: “The farm has been in our family since 1810 and I hope to continue to develop and expand the business and keep it at the forefront of the beef industry.
“I believe that by building a supply chain like this, we can deliver a more consistent product for consumers.”
Noel also provides a livery service for show and sale animals, carefully looking after their every need and training them for showing in a purpose built building.
Conservation is also important to the Hooke family. The farm has five acres dedicated to wild bird cover and a further three acres of wetlands which provide habitats to a variety of endangered birds and mammals. Most notably the family is delighted to provide a home for a pair of barn owls, of which there are now less than 100 pairs living in Northern Ireland.
Noel continued: “I think it’s important to try new things – not everything will work, but you learn from your mistakes.”
Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture and Fisheries at M&S said: “The Farming for the Future awards are now in their eighth year, acknowledging the dedication and commitment our farmers and growers are making towards Plan A and sharing best practice amongst the agricultural community across Ireland and the UK.
“Noel is a very worthy winner and has proved this by demonstrating his innovative thinking, commercial success and social responsibility in the way he manages and executes his business.
“Our judges were particularly impressed with Noel’s enthusiasm to roll out learnings from abroad back on the family farm, his dedication to producing a consistent, quality product from M&S and his forward thinking approach to the beef industry with a range of enterprising ideas.”
Noel received a £1,000 prize for the award and has been entered into an ‘Overall Farming for the Future Champion Award’ for 2015, to be presented later this year.