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Future of farming is in very safe hands

September 12th, 2022 9:00 AM

By Emma Connolly

The Young Farmer of the Year nominees

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WE were heartened to get a great response to our Young Farmer of the Year category in this year’s West Cork Farming Awards, and this week we’re delighted to announce our three finalists.

They are Declan Collins from Dunmanway; Pat Burke from Timoleague and Stewart Jennings from Leap. There’s no getting away from the challenges facing the sector at the moment.

In recent weeks, farmers have had to react to low grass supplies caused by the drought, and they’re facing into a winter with increased energy costs, after already being hit with epic fertiliser price hikes.

And then there’s the ambitious climate tar- gets the sector must deliver.

But farmers are resilient, and our finalists all have a hugely positive outlook on the sector and their individual futures.

They are educated, and they’re aware the learning process will never stop. Sustainable farming is all they’ve ever known and they’re ready to rise to the challenges.

In next week’s Southern Star we’ll reveal our drystock finalists, then the Hall of Fame winner, followed by our Farming Family.

All finalists, together with their families, will be invited to a gala awards ceremony at the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery on Friday, October 7th, where we’re delighted to say the guest of hon- our will be IFA president Tim Cullinan.

YOUNG FARMER OF THE YEAR FINALISTS - Sponsored by Drimoleague Concrete Works

Declan Collins | Dunmanway

DECLAN Collins was only 10 days old when he had his first spin on a tractor. It was a sign of things to come. The 21 year old is now in his third year of his BA in Agricultural Science, UCC/Teagasc Moorepark, a new course, and he’s due to graduate next year.

He combines his studies with working alongside his parents, Neil and Caro- line on the family farm on the outskirts of Dunmanway.

He describes himself as ‘passionate about dairy farming.’

‘I can’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy farming,’ he said.

The young man has already had vast exposure to different farming systems through part-time work and college placements and is keen to implement as much of this knowledge in his own work as possible.

On his own farm, there’s a herd or 175 cross-bred cows, 50 hectares, pro- ducing 450 kilos of milk solids off 900 kilos of ration a cow. Until 2016, they were producing winter milk and since then the focus has been very much on fertility.

‘We are now calving 88% in six weeks,’ he said.

As a young and educated farmer, farming sustainably is second nature to him, and he’s committed to developing biodiversity on the farm.

‘Currently we are trying to manage hedgerows better on the farm. We now only side trim all hedges to prevent encroachment to field margins. Any new fences around boundaries are now 1.5m to introduce a field margin for wildlife. We also have 2.5 acres of reedbeds on the farm.’

Declan is also driven to ‘change the narrative’ around the sector.

‘I like to promote the positives In farming to attract people to the industry. There is an image of farming as be- ing a slave trade and I’d like to turn that around.’

He’s very involved in his community. He plays football and hurling with Doheny GAA and soccer with Dunmanway town.

‘I was involved with the Doheny sen- ior team who just fell short of a county final last year losing the semi-finals in extra time. I have been involved in the developments of Sam Maguire Park over the years. Both my father and grandfather are involved in the development committee and I help when I can,’ he said.

After college he hopes to travel to see farms in the likes of New Zealand and the USA.

‘My father is turning 50 this year and my youngest brother is nine. I’ll be 32 by the time he’s finished college! With this in mind I’d like to expand the farm to support two families.’

Patrick Burke | Timoleague

PATRICK Burke went from helping out on the family farm, to running it com- pletely after his father suffered a fall that saw him out of action for a time.

He was ‘thrown in at the deep end,’ but he hasn’t looked back.

In fact, the 32 year old is very much focused on the future with ambitious plans to expand the herd and develop the farm’s infrastructure.

After school, Patrick studied Transport Management in CIT, while also working as a duty manager in Inchydoney Lodge & Spa.

‘I decided to bite the bullet and go back to college at the age of 25 in 2015 and do the Advanced Dairy Management course in Clonakilty Agricultural College.

‘Then my father had a fall in August 2018. At the time I working in the hotel while running the farm, but I came on board full-time to concentrate on the farm’s future,’ he explained.

In 2019, he went into partnership with his parents Vincent and Teresa.

‘We are now milking 40 pedigree Hostein Friesian dairy cows with followers kept on farm. The cows did 507 kg/ms in 2021 with 54% of the herd second lactation and below. We’re supplying Barryroe Co-op with a liquid milk con- tract and that milk in turn goes to Carbery in Ballineen for cheese production.

Cows are fed an average of 1.1 tonne of meal a year,’ he said.

Significantly, Patrick was in the top 12 suppliers in the co-op for the last two years running and was also in Animal Health Ireland’s Top 500 cell check awards in the country for 2019/2020.

Investments include a new dairy, and new a Mueller 6150 litre bulk tank.

‘Next year we hope to get going on a new cubicle building with extra cubicles for more cow comfort and extra slurry storage to make full use of the natural fertiliser. We also plan to grow the herd to 55 over the next two years.’

As a young farmer, he knows nothing only sustainable farm practices.

‘In terms of the environment we are using as much protected urea that we can to save on emissions from nitrates to the atmosphere.

‘All slurry produced on the farm is spread with LESS, be it umbilical system or trailing shoes. We also try to promote the growth of clover in newly reseeded paddocks.

‘We soil test annually, trees are plant- ed annually and hedges are maintained on a tri-yearly basis before the bird nesting season.’

Patrick is also very involved in his local GAA club, Argideen Rangers.

‘In the last two years we have done fundraising for Pieta, Clonakilty Community Hospital and the local churches, with one event raising nearly €20,000.’

Stewart Jennings | Leap

EVEN though Stewart Jennings didn’t grow up on a farm, it’s in the Leap man’s DNA.

His grandparents on both sides were farmers, and by the time he was only 22 years old he was already renting land, and had purchased his first animals.

After completing a degree in agriculture in the UK in 2013, he didn’t waste any time in getting himself established.

‘In 2014, I rented my first piece of land and I bought some calves and a few suckler cows. Slowly, I built up numbers over the next few years to 25 suckler cows and 30 dairy bred calves and 50 acres of tillage,’ said Stewartt (30).

By 2018 he was ready to make major strides forward and took on a lease on a dairy farm in Leap.

He started with 45 cows and around 100 acres.

‘This is my fifth year milking and I now have 65 cows and 190 acres, across six blocks. I also keep all calves and rear them to stores and finish,’ he said.

As well as being passionate about cows, he’s also hugely interested in crops – in fact that was his motivation for getting into farming in the first place.

He currently grows 50 acres of tillage crops, mainly spring barley and sugar beet. ‘I think it’s very satisfying to put
a single seed in the ground and see it grow through the stages over the year and then ultimately feed it to the cattle.

‘My ambition is to be self-sufficient as possible with feed grown on farm,’ he said.

He intends to stick with mixed farming.

‘We’ll keep cow numbers at 70 but the aim is to breed a more efficient and productive cow and to help that I’ve been using 100% sexed semen on the heifers,’ he said. Grass measuring is also something he’s very interested in and having completed a course in this area in 2020, and implementing the learning, cows produced an extra 40 kilos of milk solids.

‘Last year we were producing 500 kilos milk solids off 700 kilos of ration per cow which I’m happy with. Breeding and grassland management is where I’ll keep the focus,’ he said.

On top of all that, Stewart runs an agricultural contracting business with his father Noel and is planning his wedding to Rosscarbery woman Deirdre O’Sullivan next December.

Work/life balance is something he says he’s getting better at, and he’s confident about the future of farming.

‘There’s going to be a growing population to feed. There will be challenges over the next few years but there’s new technologies coming on stream all the time that will help us farm more efficiently. We have to use the information that’s available to us.’

Why we support West Cork farming

DRIMOLEAGUE Concrete Works manufacture and supply readymix concrete, blocks, precast, crushed stone, concrete products, sand and gravel to the domestic, commercial, agricultural and maritime sectors.

All products are manufactured and quarried in their own quality approved quarries. Established in 1970, the business has always supported the local farmers, businesses, sports clubs and the people of West Cork.

‘We really appreciate the support the local farming community give to our business. We believe the farming community are a big part of the West Cork area and contribute hugely to the local economy.

Many of our employees come from a farming background and are knowledgeable about farm- er’s requirements for quarry stone and concrete products,’ said Eugene Murnane.

‘When we were invited to sponsor the inaugural Young Farmer award, eight years ago we were only too delighted to come on board with The Southern Star, the Celtic Ross Hotel and other local sponsors.

The awards are a brilliant recognition and appreciation for those who work in farming, including young farmers who choose to stay on the land, who are the future of farming in West Cork.

It gives us great pleasure to provide concrete products or quarry stone to young farmers, especially when on some occasions we have done so with their parents and sometimes their grandparents previously.

‘Sponsoring the young farmer awards is our chance to give back to the farming community and encourage and reward young people who have decided to make farming their way of life and their business and we wish them every success in the future.’

Eugene Murnane, Drimoleague Concrete Works, Sponsors of the Young Farmer of the Year Award

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