The Mid Ulster teens championing women in agriculture

Magherafelt’s Rainey Endowed School has an extremely large rural catchment area.

Sunday, 13th October 2019, 8:12 am

So it’s no surprise then that it submitted three entries for the 2018/2019 ABP Angus Youth Challenge.

The competition is organised in association with the Northern Irish Angus Producer Group to develop skills of teenagers with an interest in working in the agri-food sector.

Given the quality of the three teams involved, it may also be no surprise that one made it through to the final stage of what is fast becoming one of the foremost youth competitions available to schools, clubs and societies in Northern Ireland.

Home Economics teacher Emma Badger said:“The driving force behind the enthusiasm shown for the ABP Angus Youth Challenge was the school’s Agriculture Club.

“It has been operating for a number of years and encourages participation amongst all the year groups. The man in charge of the club is mathematics teacher David Laughlin.

“David and I both helped co-ordinate the initial entries for the competition. As we progressed and were successful in having a team selected as finalists, I am now the teacher supporting that team on the finalist programme with ABP and the Angus Producer Group.”

The students on the finalist team are Anna Doole (Toomebridge), Kelly Stewart (Randalstown), Gary Thompson (Draperstown) and Ross Fleming (Desertmartin).

Ross has just completed his AS year while Anna, Kelly and Gary have just finished their GCSE studies. All four come from strong farming backgrounds.

As finalists, the Rainey team have been given the opportunity of managing five Angus cross weanlings through to finishing. It was decided to keep the animals on Anna’s home farm.

“We attended a public prize-giving ceremony at the Balmoral Show last year to assume ownership of the calves from ABP and we received them shortly after. It was a great experience for us and our families,” she said.

“The aim for the calves from the outset was to secure as much performance as possible from grazed grass. And we managed to achieve this, both in 2018 and 2019. Everyone has worked together in looking after the cattle. We have also worked closely with ABP’s Arthur Callaghan and the Blade Farming team, so as to ensure that the correct management decisions were taken at the appropriate times.

“The cattle will be put on to their finishing diets over the coming weeks.” Kelly confirmed that benchmarking the cattle has been a key focus of their work and will be included in their final submission, which the team members will make to a final judging panel later this year.

“Knowing all the figures relating to the performance of every beef enterprise is crucially important if livestock businesses in Northern Ireland are to remain sustainable,” she said.

“Given this background, we felt it important that the role of benchmarking within agriculture is analysed. We will be relating our views on this issue and the role which young people can play within farming and food by way of a final report and presentation to the judges.”

Anna continued: “There has been a tremendous interest shown in the competition by everyone at the school. We are also using social media to communicate what we are doing to a wider audience.”

Charles Smith, from the NI Angus Producer Group, said: “There is now a strong awareness that the average farmer’s age in Northern Ireland is very high. The ABP Angus Youth Challenge is a way of encouraging younger people into the industry.

“Critically, the competition has a strong focus on how best to manage cattle on farm. But it also provides a mechanism by which those taking part can improve a range of work-life skills.”

The over-arching theme to the project being developed by the team at Rainey relates to the potential that exists for women to forge careers within the farming and food sectors.

Emma Badger added: “All the members of the team are passionate about this subject. They all believe that women must be at the very heart of the decision-making process, where the food and farming industries are concerned. This has not been a feature of the sector up to this point. But it is an issue that must be addressed.”

The team at Rainey are very aware of the need recently expressed by farming and food leaders that the industry must attract the best and brightest young talents within its ranks.

“This must include women,” said Emma. “And we will be making this point in the strongest possible terms when it comes to Anna, Kelly, Gary and Ross presenting their final submission to the judges later this year. The Youth Challenge has made a tremendous impact at Rainey Endowed.

“It has helped raise the profile of the farming industry but it has also had a tremendous impact, for good, on all of those directly involved in the competition. It is very noticeable that their presentation and inter-personal skills have improved dramatically. All my teaching colleagues have commented on this.

“The Youth Challenge has definitely broken new ground in helping teenagers become more self-confident. And this is a valuable asset, which they will take with them throughout the rest of their lives.”

The Challenge 2019-2021 is now open for entries