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Annual Conference 2012

Event Details

  • Date: 31 Jan 2012
  • Venue: The Ruas Conference Centre Balmoral

The 2012 Annual Conference took place on Tuesday 31st January 2012 at the RUAS Conference Centre, Balmoral and was attended by 170 guests and members. The theme of the Conference was “Producing for a Changing Market”.

Prior to the Conference Drew McConnell was installed as President for the year 2012, taking over from 2011 President, Norbury Royle.

Drew McConnell highlighted the continuing role which the organisation will play at the very heart of agriculture in Northern Ireland. “Grass is the backbone of our ruminant industry here in Northern Ireland and we need to maximise its use to allow us compete on the world market. We are lucky here in Northern Ireland to have renowned research facilities available and while research carried out here is a good starting point, kit must also be rolled out on to farms where conditions may not be ideal .  Farmers will then feel more confident in adopting such research. In addition, farmer funded research needs to deliver financial benefits. After all, without profits farmers can not survive.

The focus of the conference highlights the reality that a growing emphasis is, once again, being placed back on the production of food. In a country so reliant on exporting food , this offers great opportunities for agriculture. But farmers need to be on top of their game to make the most of this.  Some of our best farmers are on a par with the best in the world. But all our farmers must strive to attain this level. Through its farm visits and days like today, the UGS has an important role to play in providing producers with information to allow them compete on the world market.

In addition, the changes in the current economic climate had led to an influx of young people into farming who, like myself, have no formal agricultural training. As members, can I ask you to encourage these young farmers, indeed all young people entering agriculture, to attend some of our meetings? It is with this aim we can provide both young people and ourselves with the tools and skills necessary to develop our own businesses. I have always said that the day I stop learning is the day I stop farming.

The UGS President went on to point out that farmers should strive to embrace all the information available and to look at new technology, new research and new ideas to see if they can be adapted to improve their own businesses.
He concluded: “Northern Ireland is one of the few places in the world which is good at producing grass and we should aim to utilise this resource to its full potential. By doing this it should enable us to avail of opportunities on the world markets.

Download Drew’s presentation here.

Chris Duller a DairyCo extension officer covering South Wales told the conference about some of the experiences of farmers in his  area attempting to improve efficiency and profitabiulity of their businesses. To obtain further details of his talk please click here.

Former IFA Livestock Chairman Michael Doran told the conference that livestock farmers on this island should regard grass as ‘Ireland’s Gold.’  It is our most important resource,” he added and the adoption of improved grassland management techniques, in tandem with the use of new grass varieties and clover will help our industry grow output considerably during the period ahead.  In my own case I want to double the output from my suckler beef enterprise, utilising the same grassland area, over the next number of years. Making best use of grazed grass is crucial. I used to think that getting cattle out in the middle of March constituted an early Spring. This year our turnout date for youngstock will be 1st February. We operate a paddock grazing system. Our paddocks were closed up during the period October to December last year. We aim to give them a 100 day rest period.  The very mild autumn and winter to date have facilitated grass growth over the past three months. However, I am firmly convinced that a 250 day grazing season is an achievable target for most livestock farmers.”

Download Michael’s presentation here.

Michael Shannon farms in Lanarkshire, operating a complete forage based beef finishing system. Most of the cattle produced are sold through his butchers shop and online business. Originally from Rathfriland, Michael bought the 150-acre Lanarkshire property in 1996.

Michael told this year’s conference that he is totally committed to operating a New Zealand beef fattening system which entails the out- wintering the cattle on kale, supplementing with silage in the winter months and maintaining the cattle on grass all summer.  Silage is made in big bales, which are staggered across the field. The fields are then strip grazed with bales of silage fed out with each strip. When re-seeding, the paddocks are undersown with wholecrop, which acts as a nurse crop to the grass.  Michael takes a very ‘dairy’ like approach to grazing – at the peak-growing season the cattle gain 2kg/day.

He also operate a butchery business operating under the name “Damn Delicious”. The cattle are killed and then hung for a month. Two years ago Michael opened his own High Street Butchers shop to complement the existing online business. He feels that to survive in farming you have to have a willingness to open one’s mind to new ideas. To view his talk please click here.

Rodney Elliott told the conference that farmers in South Dakota are currently receiving around 30 pence per litre for milk. The former Co Fermanagh dairy farmer now runs Drumgoon Dairies with his wife Dorothy.  He is currently milking 2,000 cows three times daily and the  current herd average is in the region of 10,000 litres at 4.01% butterfat and 3.87% protein. All of the milk goes for cheese production, so milk quality is important. However, the most important performance indicator for Rodney is daily output per cow, which currently stands at 34 litres.

His 24 point Westfalia milking parlour has been working constantly for the past four year. He has three milking groups, each working an eight hour shift every day. They have a double back for every component within the milking plant. Apart from a half hour’s wash up at the end of each eight hour, the palnt is always in use.

Rodney went on to explain the supply relationship that exists between Drumgoon Dairies and surrounding corn, soya and alfalfa growers, “In essence we purchase the feed commodities form them. In return they get the slurry from our farm,” he commented.  “Yes, local corn producers have the option of selling their produce for bio-ethanol production. However, to date we have managed to be competitive in terms of the prices we can pay.

Rodney concluded:  “Milking cows at Drumgoon is all about having the right business strategies and man management skills. But one of the key attractions for me in moving to South Dakota was the fact that bureaucracy and red tape is less of an issue  than is the case in Northern Ireland.”

Download Rodney’s presentation here.

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