Today, March 31st, represents the final day of the current Focus Farms’ Programme in Northern Ireland. By any yardstick it has been a tremendous success, exceeding all of its targets many months ago. Set up as a means of providing farmers with peer-led training opportunities, it broke the mould in allowing produces from all backgrounds see, at first hand, what can be achieved under commercial conditions on the ground in the North.

In establishing the programme, it was recognised that additional training measures had to be put in place to supplement the tremendous work already being undertaken by CAFRE and AFBI.

Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill has already confirmed that the Focus Farms programme will not be renewed in the measures to be contained within the next Rural Development Programme. So the question is: what will be put in place to provide farmers from all sectors with the opportunities they require to gauge the impact of the latest technologies and processes  in a commercial farming context? Let’s not forget that, in many instances, it is our top famers that are now driving the technological revolution that continues to impact on agriculture.

Given the significance of today’s date it would be remiss of me not to highlight the tremendous work put in by all of the host focus farmers over the past number of years. They all went that extra mile to communicate their vision for farming and to encourage the need for new thinking within every farm business. If nothing else, they gave thousands of visitors, including yours truly, the belief that all things are possible, irrespective of how challenging the economic environment for farming becomes.

The staff at Ai Services must also be commended for the more than professional way in which they co-ordinated the programme.  Dr Sam Campbell and his team have done sterling work in delivering a programme that will rank as one of the most constructive and far reaching ever conceived for agriculture in Northern Ireland.