City farming and promoting women in ag: Youths’ ideas for future farming

An innovative farm investment scheme; the opportunities of benchmarking; and promoting women’s role in shaping farming businesses were among the projects dreamt up by teenagers at Northern Ireland’s first ABP Angus Youth Challenge semi-final.

More than 40 young people were shortlisted for the final round of the competition which will see three teams awarded batches of calves and given the challenge of rearing them.

It’s the first time the competition, which is popular in the South, has run in Northern Ireland.

Charles Smith, general manager of the Irish Angus Producer Group, said he was impressed by the creative thinking behind the projects on show on Friday.

City farming investment scheme

The group at Belfast Royal Academy have come up with a creative ‘city farming’ initiative which would allow urban dwellers to invest in agricultural businesses.

Smith said: “They are quite a diverse bunch – there is a group from Belfast, which has no farming background, which wants to launch a city farming scheme where people in the city can invest money into farms at a reduced rate than what the farmer would get at the bank.”

The idea is that the farms will benefit from an interest rate at a lower value than typically offered by the banks, while consumers benefit from a higher interest rate on their savings.

Smith added: “[The students] have a number of people that they have identified through the school who would be prepared to invest £15,000 on farms and they want to promote that using the calves. It means the farm will be better off with a lower interest rate and people will be more involved in the production of their own food and have a better understanding of it.”

The teens in the team are all from the city so are hoping to keep the calves on their teacher’s farm should they make it to the final.

It wasn’t the only great idea the kids came up with.

Smith said: “There are other projects promoting the role of women in agriculture; how that has changed since the second world war – from baking the bread and cooking the food for the farm hands to being a lot more active and a lot more involved in the farm.”

Challenges facing women in Ag

Smith added: “The females in the farm are usually the ones doing the bookwork and often one of the challenges they have to face is trying to talk to their husbands or fathers and convince them to change because they see that sometimes what they are doing isn’t making that much sense financially.

“There are also some groups talking about the benefits of Angus production in the likes of Fermanagh where the land quality mightn’t be that great in some areas.

“If they use Angus cattle to produce their calves it could be easier to manage them and there could be fewer inputs.

“They can only bring the study so far, what they’ve been asked to do at this point is to bring forward a niche and out of that we will pick subjects for them to study over the lifetime of having the calves.

“The Rainey Endowed team would like to use benchmarking here at CAFRE to rear the group’s calves and try and show if they can be a plus or a minus compared to standard benchmarking.

“They would promote that and say ‘If we, as kids at school can achieve this, then surely you as a farmer can do better?'”

The teams travelled from every county in the province to take part:

  • From Co. Antrim – Belfast Royal Academy and Royal Belfast Academic Institute; St. Louis Grammar Ballymena; and Ballyclare Secondary School;
  • Co. Armagh – St. Patrick’s High School, as well as Collone Young Farmers Club;
  • Co. Down – Dromore High School;
  • Co. Derry – Rainey Endowed School;
  • Co. Fermanagh – Enniskillen Royal Grammar;
  • Co. Tyrone – Holy Trinity College, Cookstown.

Congratulating the teams ABP Northern Ireland managing director, George Mullan, said: “The ABP Angus Youth Challenge is about investing for the future of farming and food production in Northern Ireland through skills development of our young people.

“If the talent on display in this room today is any indicator of future success, then we have a lot to be positive about.”

Three finalist teams will be announced after Easter and presented with five Aberdeen Angus cross calves at a high-profile public event during the 150th Balmoral Show in May.

They will go on to rear their calves through to sale to ABP over an 18-month intensive skills development programme – covering insights into beef production from farm to fork. In addition, they will benefit financially from the profit at sale of the calves to ABP.

One overall winning team will also win a £1,000 cash prize for their school or club.

The ABP Angus Youth Challenge is organised in partnership with the Northern Irish Angus Producers Group.