Mid-Ulster school champions Women in Agriculture

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

And, 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 takes up the story:

“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.”

She continued:

“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, from Toomebridge; Kelly Stewart, from Randalstown; Gary Thompson, from Draperstown and Ross Fleming, from 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 confirmed.

“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.”

Anna continued:

“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.”

According to Charles Smith, from the Northern Irish Angus Producer Group, the competition is helping to ensure a sustainable future for beef production in Northern Ireland:

 “There is now a strong awareness that the average farmers age in Northern Ireland is very high. The ABP Angus Youth Challenge is a way of encouraging younger people into the industry.” 

He continued:

“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 again:

“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 present their final submission to the judges later this year.”

She concluded:

“The Youth Challenge has made a tremendous impact at Rainey Endowed.

“At one level 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 ABP Angus Youth Challenge 2019-2021 is now open for entries from teams of 14-16 year olds. Entries close noon on 29th November 2019.

Ballymena school promotes beef production the sustainable way

It is vitally important to retain the economic and social link between beef production and rural communities. This is the main theme of the project the three-strong finalist team of Thomas O’Kane, Conall McCafferty and Peter Graham, from St Louis Grammar School in Ballymena, are working on as part of the 2018/19 ABP Angus Youth Challenge. The competition is organised by ABP in association with the Northern Irish Angus Producer Group to develop agri-skills in teenagers interested in a working in the sector.

Thomas, Conall and Peter all hail from faming backgrounds in the Ballymena area. Their participation as finalists is supported by St Louis’ geography teacher Louise Gildea. She is quick to confirm that it has taken on a life of its own within the school as a whole, adding

“The boys’ involvement in what is a programme that takes in a full two years has created an interest in farming that I have never seen in the school before.

“All of this is extremely positive and we would like to build on it for the future.”

Specifically, Louise and the team members feel that much more focus should be given to production agriculture as a curriculum subject that is made available to pupils right across Northern Ireland.

“Currently, the school offers a BTEC qualification in agriculture. However, this is only recognised by a certain number of third level institutions as an official entry qualification. This issue needs to be reviewed by the colleges and universities,” Louise further commented.

Thomas, Conall and Peter have just finished their GCSE year. They were coming to the end of their first term in Year 11 when they submitted their entry into the competition by way of a video. Thomas takes up the story:

“Our submission was entitled ‘Reconnecting with Our Rural Roots’.

“The reason for taking this approach reflects the sentiments expressed in television ads used so successfully at the time of the US Super Bowl and themed: So God made a farmer.”

Conall pointed out that the school’s success in reaching the final stage and the programme they are now engaged in has removed a stigma attached to farming, which he felt existed at St Louis up to that point. He continued:

“There are over 1,000 students attending the school, many coming from rural areas.  Yet very few have a direct family involvement in farming.

“Our success to date has helped put farming in a more positive context throughout the school.  And this is a good thing.”

Peter confirmed that all three team members would like to follow careers in farming and food.   

“We are totally aware of the central role that agriculture continues to play in rural communities here in Co Antrim and beyond. It is our intention to further reflect this priority and the need to ensure that beef production remains at the very heart of the rural economy.”

The four finalist teams will be judged later this year on the projects they have been working on and their ability to rear five cross bred Angus cattle from the weanling stage right through to finishing. The St Louis team agreed the cattle would be accommodated on Thomas’ family farm. The cattle were awarded to the boys by ABP at the Balmoral Show 2018.

“We are very happy with the progress they have made to date,” Thomas explained.

“Our plan has been to get as much performance form grazed grass, both last year and this.

“The cattle will be on the farm until the Autumn this year. They will be put on their finishing ration over the coming weeks.

“The three of us have been equally involved in the management of the cattle. We have also availed of advice from Arthur Callaghan, Blade Farming NI Co-ordinator for ABP in Northern Ireland.”

The sustainability of Angus cross cattle is a key message to be promoted to the farming community by the St Louis team as part of the Angus Youth Challenge.

“Issues that we will be addressing include the fact that Angus cattle are easy to manage and they finish quickly off grass,” Thomas confirmed.

“All of this adds up to a lower Carbon Footprint when it comes to producing beef from Angus cross animals.”

He continued:

“It is also important to get a strong message across to consumers, where Angus cattle are concerned. The meat is of a superior quality.

“We will be highlighting the role of the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme, which plays such an important role in delivering consumer certainty across the entire beef chain.”

ABP’s Arthur Callaghan had this to say on the boys steady progress to date,  “The boys have shown great stockmanship skills and the best practice approach they have taken with these calves, such as superior grassland management and a stringent health plan will ensure that the cattle reach their target specification in a very efficient manner.''

“We have been delighted with the response from the education sector about the benefits of this competition. The good news is that teenagers from post-primary schools, clubs and societies across Northern Ireland now have the chance to compete for a place on the 2020-2021 programme.”