Striving for an enjoyable life and profitable farm

The 16th annual FBD Young Farmer of the Year awards is under way, with organisers looking for young farmers who are actively involved in the running of a farm, full or part time, to apply.
Striving for an enjoyable life and profitable farm

The competition is organised by Macra na Feirme with the support of sponsors FBD and partners, the IFA.

We spoke to the reigning FBD Young Farmer of the Year, John Buckley, who helped launch the competition this month alongside FBD’s new brand ambassador, Seán O’Brien, the Ireland and Leinster rugby player.

The overall prize is a €3,000 bursary to travel and study farm practices abroad. Young farmers can enter themselves, or anyone can nominate a young farmer. Entry forms are available from the Macra na Feirme national office (phone 01-4268900), from your local IFA or FBD office, and can be downloaded from the website. You can also apply online on the website.

The deadline for entries is Friday week, May 30.

* What’s your farm set up, John?

I’m a 28-year-old dairy farmer from Aughaville, Bantry, Co Cork. I’m in a milk production partnership with my parents since 2010, milking on average 160 cows per year in a 60/40 spring/autumn calving system.

* What is your vision of the post-quota dairy industry? >>I believe we are entering the most exciting times for the Irish dairy industry. I feel agriculture is at the beginning of a revolution. There are very ambitious targets set out in the Food Harvest 2020 report, and in the case of dairy, the target is a 50% increase in output. I feel we will achieve this. We have a fantastic advantage, with our ability to grow and utilise the best quality and cheapest feed for our animals, which is grass. I feel dairying will continue to be the most efficient converter of grass to profit. We have to capitalise on this advantage, and also sell our “green” image to the rest of the world. With the new Bord Bia Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme coming on stream, we have another string in our bow, and we need to continue marketing our dairy products while meeting some of the highest quality assurance standards in the world.

* Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

I think my mission statement sums up my aim the best really. It is “To run a highly efficient (top 10%) dairy farm, that strives to be innovative and profitable, whilst ensuring an enjoyable life for both family and staff involved.”

* What do you see as the biggest challenges facing farmers over the coming year? >>Price volatility, and managing it, will become a big issue for farmers. The removal of milk quota next April is a big positive, but I would hope that farmers looking at expanding or changing systems would be doing so with both eyes wide open. It’s important to analyse everything in detail before considering change.

* What advice would you give to young farmers considering to or starting off on their farming careers facing these challenges?

Firstly, experience is vital. Strive to work with the best in this country and beyond. Ask questions and listen to the best in your chosen industry. Knowledge is power. After that, I strongly feel a well-made plan and realistic budget is vital. Realism is key. Too often, people use targets and costs only achieved by farmers in the top 10%. The likelihood of you achieving all these is lower, in the first two or three years especially. Also, both of these need to be done with your advisor, and I find running them past a good friend or farmer with experience in a similar situation is of great benefit.

* What help is available for young farmers, what helped you?

Work experience was the first. Working in dairy systems taught me a lot, from animal husbandry, grassland management and financial discipline, to working with people.

Being part of a discussion group is of great benefit, along with a good team consisting of advisor, accountant and good friends.

Go to farm walks and conferences, be they run by local co-ops, Teagasc, Macra na Feirme, the Grassland Association etc, with an open mind and a willingness to learn. These people are striving to be top of their industry, and it’s good to see how they are achieving it. Farming can be difficult, challenging, and even lonely at times, but discussion groups and farm walks are positive and uplifting, and will often throw out new ideas or solutions to issues.

Work with the older generation. These farmers will always have more experience than us. A recent example for me of this was the fodder crisis. They viewed silage in a pit as money in the bank. I, like others, viewed it as money tied up, and an unnecessary cost.

* Finally, how important is it to you to get away from the farm, and what do you do away from the farm?

Very important, and farmers don’t do it often enough. It has to be treated as a business, and not a way of life. Without a break or time off, you develop tunnel vision, lose efficiency, and possibly your goal. For me, Macra has been fantastic. Social events, both nights out and competitions have been a great help, and educational. I have come in contact with a lot of like-minded young people through Macra nationwide, and it’s provided opportunities to travel abroad.

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