The FBD Young Farmer of the Year competition is now in its 23rd year. Since the first ceremony in 1999, these awards have shone a spotlight on the next generation of farming leadership and talent in Ireland and provided a platform to showcase the work being done by young farmers across the country.
These prestigious accolades are organised annually by Macra na Feirme and supported by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and sponsored by FBD Insurance.
In December 2021, Owen Ashton was crowned the 2021 FBD Young Farmer of the Year at a virtual awards ceremony hosted by RTÉ’s Damien O’Reilly.
Navan native Owen, who is originally not from a farming background, is the owner of a herd of 170 dairy cows and manages a dairy farm in Castlelyons, Co. Cork.
In this article, Owen speaks about his farming experience, what it means to be the FBD Young Farmer of the Year and what he’s hoping 2022 and the future might bring.
Despite not being from a farming family, Owen’s passion and love of agriculture stems from his youth, where he says he would spend “every opportunity I could working on my uncle’s mixed farm in Wales”.
His time in Wales certainly had an impact on him, as once he completed his leaving cert, Owen decided to pursue his passion by studying Agriculture in Aberystwyth University in Wales.
Once he graduated from college in Wales, Owen set his mind on building his experience and skill levels. In order to do this, Owen placed huge importance on learning from the best in the sector and took great drive and dedication from the encouragement he received from his mentor in Wales.
Striving for the top, Owen set his sights on working with the “top 1% of people in the industry”, a move that he says has paid off enormously.
“I always target to work with really good operators,” he said.
“On every farm I have been to I have learned a lot of information about everything- from business, to people, cows, and grass. I am very lucky in the fact that I have worked with really good people.”
Owen is currently managing a 180-cow dairy farm in Cork for Kevin and Margaret Twomey, a job which he says is much like the day-to-day management any dairy farmer undertakes, but in his case he is managing it on behalf of somebody else.
The cows are dried off since December with calving due to begin in February. Owen has been managing farms for the Twomeys for over six years and during this time they have provided him the opportunity to grow his own cow numbers in the business.
As a result, Owen has been able to build his own dairy herd, owning 150 of the cows on the farm in Castlelyons which he leases back to the business. He has also recently invested in 20 in-calf heifers which are currently leased to a farmer in Tipperary.
As for the future and challenges that lay ahead, Owen stated:
“As a farmer from a non-farming background, I see finding a leased farm and a contract with a milk supplier as my main challenges for the future.”
He also said that the “environmental measures coming down the line pose a challenge to farmers across the board”.
Like many farmers, Owen places a very high importance on sustainability in his farming practices. The use of clover to cut back on chemical nitrogen plays a vital and integral part in his sustainability plan for the future.
Last year, Owen set himself a target to cut back by 10% on the previous year’s usage of chemical nitrogen, and the plan is now to continue to reduce this further over the next three to four years by including clover when reseeding and using red clover in silage ground.
Along with this, Owen has also overseen the building of a new slurry tank to make better use of slurry across the business.
In terms of planning for the future, Owen hopes to lease a farm for himself next year to house his 170-strong herd and hopefully to continue to grow the herd to 200 dairy cows.
FBD Young Farmer of the Year
Owen joined the Macra club in Fermoy when he moved there from Navan as a means of meeting people and getting involved in the local area. The plan worked; he met his fiancé in Macra and they are both currently active members of the Ballyhoura Macra club.
Membership of Macra introduced Owen to the FBD Young Farmer of the Year award. In 2017, Owen entered the FBD Young Farmer of Year award for the first time and made it all the way to the semi-final round.
Returning again in 2021, Owen said that “it felt like a good time to enter again now that I had a bit more experience behind me this year and thought I had a good chance”.
On winning the Young Farmer of the Year award Owen remarked “this is a very prestigious competition, it means everything to win as it really raises my profile”.
“As I am not from a farming background, I need all the profile I can get to find a farm to lease. Any good publicity is much welcome and being named the FBD Young Farmer of the Year makes a massive difference. I hope it will help me to get on the next step of the farming ladder to help me meet my goals in the next five years.”
“Since its inception over 20 years ago the FBD Young Farmer of The Year has always showcased the very best of Irish farming. The Young Farmer of The Year offers an opportunity to recognise and showcase the very best of Irish young farmers, who are world leaders in sustainable food production,” said Macra na Feirme national president John Keane.
Michael Berkery, chairman of FBD Trust, said: “The FBD Young Farmer of the Year is a flagship event for us in FBD and we are proud to have been sponsoring these awards since they began.
“On behalf of everybody at FBD, I would like to extend our congratulations to Owen Ashton. This award is very well deserved, it is a testament to Owen’s hard work, passion and dedication.
“Our hope is that these awards will inspire the next generation of farmers to build strong and sustainable farm businesses for the future. At FBD we believe that supporting young farmers is vital to developing and future-proof Ireland’s farming industry and ensuring the sustainability of Ireland’s rural communities.”
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