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YFCU hosts sixth Agri-Food Conference



On Friday evening Young Farmer’s Clubs’ of Ulster (YFCU) commenced their 6th Agri- Food Conference retaining the theme of ‘Adapt and Evolve’ by hosting a pre-conference dinner. Guest speakers for the evening included, David Brown, Deputy President, Ulster Farmers Union(UFU), commenting on the Climate Change Bills and their potential impact on farming in Northern Ireland. David Wright N.I. editor of the Irish Farmer’s Journal then encouraged members to focus on aspirations and work towards their own personal goals, while also noting the importance of being alert to mental health issues which can effect many, particularly in the farming community. The final speaker of the evening David Linton, Agriculture Commercial Manager, Barenbrug addressed members and guests after dinner, offering a comical yet inspirational speech, encouraging members to take full advantage of the opportunities YFCU offers to travel, learn and broaden their skillset, while supporting one and other throughout.


Peter Alexander, President of YFCU brought the evening to a close thanking sponsors and guests for their support in delivering the 2022 YFCU Agri-Food Conference, and called upon members to engage – in and learn from the speakers and experiences on offer in the weekend ahead.

Friday night speakers (L-R) David Brown - Deputy President, Ulster Farmers Union, Victor Chesnutt – President , Ulster Farmer’s Union, Peter Alexander – President, Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster, Richard Beattie Chair of Agri-Food Conference Committee & Vice President, Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster David Wright, N.I. Editor, Irish Farmers Journal David Linton, Kilrea Young Farmers.



Saturday boasted a full schedule of activities for delegates, kicking off with an opportunity to attend one of four industry leading farms, to see first-hand and learn from those who have achieved success in their respective fields of work, demonstrating resilience and diversification. Farm tour hosts included:


Roger and Hilary Bell, husband and wife from Kells, both of whom farm full-time finishing beef cattle and rearing sheep on a rotational grazing system, currently involved in the Co-Op Lamb group and programmes such as GrassCheck, Ecosward and most recently two separate European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Scheme projects.


The Chestnutt family running a 300 cow autumn block calving dairy herd with a strong emphasis on milk from forage. In 2020 deciding to diversify, starting to pasteurise, bottle and sell their own milk, directly to the public, through the first Milk Vending Machine to open on the island of Ireland, also selling their own branded, reusable glass milk bottles to aid reduction of plastic waste.


Photo caption: Chestnutt Farm Tour showcasing farm and milk vending machines.

Robin Orr who manages a 180 cow pedigree Holstein dairy herd “Ballyportery Prefix” located in Cloughmills county Antrim. Robin converted to robotic milking in 2019 and milks using three Fullwood Merlin robots. The herd is currently averaging 11,500 kg of milk annually & 3.8% fat and 3.25% protein on a 0.35 kg litre feed rate. Genomic testing has played an important part of breeding strategies and has been carried out for the past four years with an emphasis on milk components while maintaining dairy type. Robin has breed animals into the top 10 PLI heifers in the UK.



Photo caption: Robin Orr showcasing technical innovation his farm.


Gareth Gault, director of 'GRASSMEN’ the fast-paced, global agriculture phenomenon whose video content and merchandise are recognised worldwide. Starting his business in 2009, Gareth’s love and passion for machinery allowed him to experiment with cameras and upload content to YouTube; with a large following and a niche in the market for real-life, documentary, farming and machinery action making it possible to drive the brand forward.


Photo caption: Conference attendees visitng the Grassmen farm tour.


Delegates then returned to the Galgorm, for lunch, followed by YFCU President, Peter Alexanders’ welcome address and invitation to Minister Edwin Poots to officially open the conference.


Minister Poots stated “I am delighted to be able to address the annual YFCU 2022 Agri-Food Conference. I want to start by recognising the commitment and contribution that the YFCU makes to our rural community and to the personal development and employability of thousands of young people.”

“I am proud that my Department has been supporting the YFCU since 1934. Young farmers are the new generation and what you learn and adopt sets the foundation for future careers within the agri-food industry and the performance of the industry as a whole.”



Photo caption: Minster Edwin Poots opening the 2022 Agri-Food Conference.


Delegates then attended a selection of workshops, with offerings from a wide range of leading experts; encouraging members to look at new approaches by supporting their understanding of both prominent and pioneering innovations in farming and food, for an evolving and sustainable industry.


Dr John Gilliland OBE, Director of Agriculture and Sustainability, Devenish, offered further insight on accelerating ruminant farming to net zero through a case study of Roger and Hilary Bells’ Farm from the morning Farm visits, as one of seven farms in the EIP Innovation ARC Zero projects.


Photo caption: Dr John Gilliland OBE presenting a workshop on accelerating ruminant farming to net zero.


Emma Swan, InTouch Feeding Specialist, shared Alltech’s vison for a sustainable Irish diary industry, addressing how grassland management, farm inputs, herd performance and genetics can lead to an improvement in the sustainability of dairy production.

John Laughlin, Area Development Manager, National Milk Records and Rhona Millar, Precision Livestock Farming Account Manager, Zoetis, gave insight to Dairy Heifer Genomics, explaining both the short- and long-term benefits of genomic testing, and how to use the data to implement a breeding strategy for your herd.


Photo caption: Emma Swan, InTouch Feeding Specialist shared Alltech’s vison for a sustainable Irish diary industry.


Jason Rankin, General Manger, AgriSearch discussed the work of the Multi-Species Swards for Beef & Sheep European Innovation Partnership, investigating the role of multi-species swards on beef and sheep farms.


Photo caption:Jason Rankin, General Manger, AgriSearch discussed the work of the Multi-Species Swards for Beef & Sheep


Joy Alexander, Head of Future Food Policy, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, presented the current draft N.I. Food Strategy Framework and invited members to share their thoughts and comments.


Photo caption: Joy Alexander, Head of Future Food Policy, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, presented the current draft N.I. Food Strategy Framework


The final plenary of the conference brought delegates together to hear comment from, and question, leading figures across the generations, on the Future of Food and Farming in Northern Ireland. The panel Chaired by Richard Beattie, Vice President, YFCU, featured Peter Alexander, President YFCU, Victor Chestnutt, President UFU, Michael Bell, Executive Director, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association and Jenny Martin, Next Generation Committee Member and Technical Officer, UFU.



Photo caption: Panel discussion on the Future of Food and Farming in Northern Ireland


Discussion focused on addressing the many challenges facing the agri-food industry at present, however an air of optimism and inspiration to learn, adapt and involve was encouraged by the panel. Victor Chestnutt acknowledged “we are standing at a period of change, and though the farming industry has changed all our lives, the speed of change will now have to increase; we have a great opportunity here and those willing to go with the changes will have a bright future.” While Michael Bell said “there has never been a more exciting time in food and farming; we are front and centre”.




photo caption: Victor Chestnutt and Michael Bell discussing topics on the panel discussion.


Peter Alexander urged members to take opportunities wherever possible to learn and develop, highlighting the conference as a key learning example. Building on this, Jenny Martin acknowledged the benefits of formal education, but drew attention to the equal importance of learning from neighbours and friends in the industry to allow continual innovation and progress, in striving for more efficient and sustainable farming practices.


photo caption: Peter Alexander discussing topics on the panel discussion.


Richard Beatie drew the conference to a close thanking sponsors for their support, speakers and host farms for their generous contribution of time and expertise, and finally members for their engagement and contribution throughout the weekend.



Photo caption: Richard Beattie Chair of Agri-Food Conference Committee & Vice President closing the Agri-Food Conference.


Hannah Kirkpatrick, Vice President, YFCU “ I had a fantastic weekend at the YFCU Agri Food conference. Spending the weekend with experts from the industry was inspiring, educational and so beneficial. From workshops, to discussion panels and a brilliant range of on farm visits, the weekend was a great success! I spent Saturday morning at Chestnutt Farms just outside Portrush, it was so interesting to hear all about how they set up Chestnutt Milk hut, selling their own branded, reusable glass bottles from their farm. A great weekend and I would encourage anyone to attend the next one.”


Commenting on the conference Peter Alexander – President, YFCU “We were very pleased to hold our 6th Agri-food conference at the Galgorm Resort and Spa this weekend. It was good to be back in person after holding this event virtually last year, due to the pandemic. We had a fantastic programme of farm visits, panel discussions and workshops which appealed to all those in the agri-food industry and addressed the theme of our conference “Adapt and Evolve”.


“As an industry facing change and challenges it is vital that we create the opportunities to adapt and evolve our enterprises to secure the future success of the Agri-Food industry. I want to thank all the conference sponsors without whom this event would not be possible.”


Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster would like to give special recognition to following platinum sponsors of the Agri-Food Conference – Dunbia, Danske Bank, Power NI, Ulster Farmers’ Union and Chestnutt Animal Feeds.

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