When it comes to farming no one knows the challenges ahead better than the young generation of farmers across the country getting ready to step into the forefront of the industry – and challenge for the top prizes in ploughing.
For most young farmers agriculture is a way of life, but the changing nature of the business means they won’t all be able to pursue their chosen career full time.
But it’s not just the commercial side of the business the young farmers are making a name for themselves in.
Farming Life speaks to three lads ahead of the 74th Northern Ireland International Ploughing Championships who are making a name for themselves throughout the competitive circles.
Getting involved in ploughing is something Andrew Gill could have never envisaged this time last year.
The 25-year-old was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in June last year and after a lengthy battle and heart complications Andrew is looking forward to the challenge of the ploughing championships.
A beef and sheep farmer the ploughing bug is something that bit him hard. With generations of his family involved in it, Andrew was always interested in the competitiveness of the contests.
But, when he was diagnosed with the cancer he didn’t think he’d ever sit on a tractor again.
“The first three to four months were tough but now I am getting out and I am back in the gym, just getting back to myself, getting strong and getting my confidence back,” Andrew said.
“Some days feel not too bad but the tiredness is a big thing to try and get over as my sleeping pattern has been messed up.
“It is just going to take time.
“I have a heart condition now as after my last session of treatment I ended up in intensive care as my heart rate dropped and blood pressure and it damaged my heart unfortunately.
“Hopefully it’s coming back round to the right way but I do not think I will be 100%.
“I am doing my best to get back to normality. It was a big setback at the time, I was in bed for 12 days and getting up to walk was hard, I was on crutches for a few days.
“It has been a full year now and you think it’s been really slow at times but you remember the day you were diagnosed so clearly in your head.
“My heart doctor wants me to go for another scan before I do any heavy lifting. As well as farming I am a plasterer and that’s pretty hard going work, getting back to it is what I am aiming for but I might have to change to something a bit lighter for a while.
The Saintfield man has many achievements under his ploughing belt. He’s won the Northern Ireland Young Farmer’s Championship since he first ploughed competitively and was second at the Five Nations Ploughing Championship in Scotland last year.
When he stepped up to the Under 28 Senior Class at the National Ploughing Championships he scooped third place and is already winning local matches at senior grade.
His success he puts down to two things. “I love driving tractors and love winning!”
With his sights firmly set on qualifying for the World Championships he attributes his success on the inspiration and guidance of his grandfather, father and his coach, Thomas Cochrane.
Away from farming and ploughing Andrew takes time for his ongoing recovery relaxing with his girlfriend Ashleigh and walking his two German Shepherds.
His 10 years of ploughing may have had a temporary setback, but Andrew is still going.
“With farming in my blood, I’m never far away from it to help out, especially when it comes to tractor driving.”
He concludes with a message for all in the industry.
“Although farming is very demanding at times it is important that farmers take time off and look after their health. Your health is your wealth which was something I very soon noticed last year.”
Ballycastle dairy and arable farmer David Jamison has been ploughing since he was 13, after years seeing his father behind the tractor wheel.
Now the 19-year-old is stepping up to build on his achievements and experiences to date.
The Ballycastle man’s passion for ploughing comes not only from his family’s interest, but the need for precision.
“The skill of ploughing itself really is something of its own,” he said. “It demands great skill and concentration.”
But for David the added benefit of meeting new people and new friends is an added bonus.
His career ploughing has had many notable highlights.
“I have competed at many local matches throughout the season as well as the Northern Ireland International Match which is coming up again at the end of this month,” David said.
“In 2014 I also competed at the All Ireland Championships gaining second place in the Under 28s class.
“My most recent and greatest achievement was in August this year when i had the Opportunity to travel to Switzerland to compete in the European Reversible Contest.
“On day one I ploughing grassland finishing in third place behind two very experienced ploughmen from the Republic of Ireland and going on to finish sixth overall at European level.
“This was an excellent trip, the experience and knowledge I gained from the 4 days ploughing will help me improve further.”
Working on a busy farm means like many who are stepping up to the ploughing challenge practice is crammed in, not to mention the weather, but David has the determination and drive to achieve much more as he sets on continuing the family farming tradition and compete at the World Farming Championships.
With the Northern Ireland International Match coming to his hometown of Donaghcloney 16-year-old student Peter Allen has another opportunity to add to his considerable successes.
As well as studying welding and fabrication at the South East Regional College site in Lisburn he helps out at his grandfather’s beef, suckler herd and arable farm.
His fire to take up ploughing came to him as soon as he watched.
“I was then showed how to set up a plough and immediately became interested,” he explains. “I was then asked to plough in Junior class at Hillsborough Vintage Ploughing Match, finishing second.”
From there he has been honing his skills and expanding his knowledge of ploughing.
Peter has competed in all novice, vintage and classic classes over the past two years and is progressing to intermediate this season.
He outlines some of his achievements to date: “I have won the six nations in Carlow last September and won classes in Mullahead. I have also won a number of classes over the past season at a number of ploughing matches.”
When not studying or practicing ploughing Peter pitches in at the farm
“I feed cattle, spread slurry, put out dung, cut grass, topping, working with arable crops and a whole lot more!”
While he acknowledges the tough work involved in farming and is developing a future career Peter one day wants to have a farm of his own.
With his success – and the recent winning of an opportunity to compete in Germany – came the realisation is even his friends who aren’t farmers and don’t plough are keen to hear all his results, acknowledging the difficulty of the sport.
The Northern Ireland International Ploughing Championship takes place on 29th and 30th September at Donaghcloney, Co Down. More information can be found here: www.niploughing.com