Northern Ireland has once again shown the strength of its next generation farmers as Robert Stewart becomes the latest contestant to reach the final of the acclaimed, Cogent Futures programme.
The programme, now in its sixth year, offers a unique opportunity for participants to get their first taste of life as a Sire Analyst as well as providing a comprehensive introduction to genetics. Since its origins, the competition has always attracted successful candidates from Northern Ireland with a participant from the country taking the top spot just last year.
As part of the experience, candidates will be given the chance to visit a range of dairy herds throughout the UK and will be assessed on their ability to select potential bull mothers and match these cows to a suitable sire.
For twenty-year-old Robert, reaching the final four in the programme is a great chance to develop his awareness of genetics: “I believe that Cogent Futures can play a huge part, not only in broadening my knowledge on bull selection but also giving me firsthand insight into what sire analysts look for in a bull mother,” says Robert. “It will be an invaluable experience for both me personally and the future of my herd.”
Growing up on his family’s dairy farm in Portaferry, Co. Down, Robert realised early on that that he had a keen interest in working with dairy cattle. Since 2011, he has represented both Northern Ireland HYB and his local Young Farmers’ Club, with success in several competitions both locally and nationally. After finishing school, Robert went on to study his Diploma in Agriculture at Greenmount Agricultural College and it was here that he discovered how much he valued the industry.
“My time at Greenmount confirmed to me how much I like and value farming, but I see the future of the global agriculture industry facing enormous challenges over the coming years. However, I know that we need farms to survive and I am confident that by embracing new technologies and efficient practices, agriculture will always have an important role to play.”
The family farm has a strong preference towards autumn calving with all 320 cows currently being milked. Now Robert, who has slowly been adding new bloodlines into the herd for a number of years, is keen to put his passion for technology and AI knowledge to good use.
“We are living in a technology-driven world,” says Robert, “and I am intrigued by what advances agriculture will take and how we can utilise it for herd production.
“My primary focus at the moment is to continue adding new bloodlines to the herd to increase the standard and add additional value. Purchasing embryos from around the world will help me achieve this. The ultimate aim is to breed the top cows and heifers to create a functional, low maintenance cow that can produce milk cost-effectively. By doing Cogent Futures, I’ll get a better insight into what makes bloodlines more appealing to the market.”