The Ploughing Championships may be 85 years old this year, but youth is still very much on its side.
On the Hereford stand at Tullamore, there was a youthful glow to the competition for five €1,000 agricultural bursaries.
Sponsored by the Irish Hereford Society in co-operation with Slaney Foods and Lidl Ireland, the aim is to develop an interest in the beef industry amongst students, while helping with their education costs.
Larry Feeney of the Irish Hereford Society said: “This bursary programme was launched earlier in the summer, and created a wide interest from aspiring agricultural students wishing to go to agricultural college or study agriculture at third level.
“Participants had to submit an assignment entitled, ‘Environmental Sustainability, the Challenges for the Irish Beef Sector. A team of adjudicators then selected ten qualifiers, who are here with us today at our stand. And from this group of ten, five winners were selected through an interview process carried out by Matt Dempsey.
“We were very pleased with the response to the bursary competition and, in particular, we were very impressed with the quality of entries we received.
“Now we wish all five winners and the five runners- up every success in their chosen career.”
The Hereford bursary winners announced by Andrew Doyle, Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, in Tullamore on Wednesday were Paraic Ryan, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare; Clem Rossiter, Bannow, Co Wexford; Nicole Keohane McCarty, Kinsale, Co Cork; Michael Kennedy, Stradbally, Co Laois; and Hannah Quinn Mulligan, Croom, Co Limerick. After the presentation of prizes, I spoke to Minister Doyle about the competition and the Hereford breed.
“The initiative here today between all the partners along the food chain, and the encouragement given to young people embarking on careers in this industry, can only be commended.
“The only way our beef industry will grow, both for our domestic and export markets, is if everyone involved feels they are getting their fair slice of the cake.
“Now we once again see customers returning to Hereford both here and abroad.
“I’m only just back from a trade mission to Vietnam and Korea. And our message there, as we try to source new markets for our produce, is that the beef we produce is safe, secure and sustainable. It’s something that couldn’t be repeated often enough.
I also spoke to Brendan Conway, a senior buyer with Lidl. “In our Inisvale range, we have a full range of Hereford steaks on the shelves in all of our 147 Irish stores, all day everyday.
“We also export Irish Hereford beef to 13 other European countries.
“We are obviously very passionate about Hereford, and this is really down to its eating quality.
“We have tested Hereford against other meats from America, South America and Europe, it comes out tops every time. We do blind tastes, a test for aroma, a texture test, and it scores extremely high consistently.
“The other beef sold in our stores is non-breed specific, Hereford is our premium offering of beef. And we absolutely stand over it.”
Neaby at the Irish Angus Stand, just as the Herford competition was wrapping up, another with the focus firmly on students was about to get under way.
In recent years, the Irish Angus Beef Schools Competition has been a game-changer in getting students interested in cattle. There can be no greater way to get a student (or anybody else for that matter) interested in cattle than by having them look after the animals themselves.
And the Irish Angus Competition prize of €2,000 for the overall winners is tope dup with the profit from finishing the five Angus beef cattle presented to each team.
So it’s no surprise that the event has grown in popularity with every passing year.
At the Irish Angus stand on Wednesday at the Ploughing, RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan was on hand to present students from each of the five finalist schools with their five Angus weanlings.
Organised by the Irish Angus Producer group in conjunction with ABP, Kepak and Tesco Ireland, the competition is designed to encourage young people to study agricultural science for their Leaving Cert, and give them a strong basic understanding of farming.
I met with students from two of the finalist chosen this year. The tam from CBS, Tralee, Co Kerry are unusual finalists, because they all come from the town of Tralee, with no farming background.
“We wanted to gain experience and confidence in something that we otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to in school life,” CBS student Rory Ruttledge explained.
“And we wanted to promote Ag Science as a subject in our school, as it is a new subject.”
The students’ Angus cattle will be looked after by them on the farm of their teacher for the next 18 months.
Another school presented with five Angus calves was St Brogan’s School, Bandon.
Here, the winning team of transition year students Conor Lehane and Mark Shorten also have something unusual to confess. On leaving school, both plan to pursue careers as farmers, when most are looking far beyond the farm gate for their futures.
“We both hope to become dairy farmers,” said Conor Lehane.
Mark Shorten added, “We took part in the BT Young Scientist earlier this year, and were encouraged by family, teachers and friends to take part in this competition also. We are really ecstatic to have been selected and are looking forward to the challenge laid out for us.”
Good luck to them all.
How does one make the business of farming more interesting for young people in this age of technology?
Good, old-fashioned fun is the secret of the success of the Irish Hereford Bursary and the Irish Angus Schools competition.
“Fun is the one thing,” the Beatles once famously sang, “that money can’t buy,” and that was clearly evident when I visited the Hereford and Angus stands last Wednesday.
There might have been heavy clouds outside, and rain falling by the bucket-full, but it was all merry and good natured within.
Of course there had to be winners and losers in each competition, but both events usefully encourage young people to become more active in farming.
I asked Larry Feeney of the Irish Hereford Society about the narrow window between the final date for entries accepted for their competition (September 2) and the result being announced.
Larry said: “With most students, their time over the summer months can be taken up with exams and perhaps a debs’ ball.
“We are well aware of our position in a student’s head. We would not be at the top of the list, that’s very clear.”
Over on the Angus stand, having a personality like RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan involved gave the event a sprinkle of stardust.
And gave students the opportunity to get that all important selfie with the first lady of Irish television.
Both competitions are right on the money.
Where Hereford and Angus have gone, many more cattle breeds might well follow.