It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” says Caoimhe Horan, a member of the winning Certified Irish Angus Schools Competition group from Gorey Community School in Co Wexford.
“We were just down on the pitch [for photos] and saw our faces up on the scoreboard and were like – ‘What are we doing here?’”
It’s 1 April and we are at Croke Park for the annual Certified Irish Angus competition. Schools from all over the country have taken part, with only 35 being chosen from over 150 applicant groups, and then just a further five making it to the finals.
About the competition
The Certified Irish Angus Schools competition, created by Certified Irish Angus, ABP and Kepak, challenges secondary students to rear five Irish Angus calves for beef production while completing an agricultural science project of their choosing.
It aims to promote the Certified Irish Angus Beef brand while communicating the care and attention required to produce quality beef for consumers.
This year’s winners – Eoin Kelly, Caoimhe Crean, Caoimhe Horan and Pádraig Kinsella – impressed the judges with their approach to the competition, which is now in its eighth year.
The group researched the benefits of the three Es (environmental, economic and ethical) of the Aberdeen Angus breed.
“We first learned about [the competition] at the National Ploughing Championships in 2019,” says Caoimhe Crean.
“We saw the groups with their calves and thought, ‘We should try this.’ So we formed a group, made an entrance video and sent it in to the organisers of the competition.”
“We were looking for something to do during transition year as well, and this seemed interesting – so we said we’d take a shot at it,” adds Eoin.
A winning formula
The group conducted a survey among dairy farmers that showed promising results for using the Certified Irish Angus breed in dairy farming.
They educated farmers about how they could increase the economic value of a dairy-bred calf by using an Irish Angus sire and organised a number of events aimed at farmers to spread the message.
The fact that one of the winning team is not from a farm, but possesses a deep respect for farming and all things rural, demonstrates the strength of the community this group comes from
This was helped through the creation of a Certified Irish Angus recipe booklet, which was distributed from the group’s local Tesco.
Announcing the winners, Charles Smith, general manager of the Irish Angus Producer Group said: “Gorey Community School are the well-deserved winners of this year’s competition.
"The fact that one of the winning team is not from a farm, but possesses a deep respect for farming and all things rural, demonstrates the strength of the community this group comes from.
"The enormous respect for the farms and the traditions they come from was evident in their approach and execution of this project.”
He refers to teammate Caoimhe Horan, who does not come from a farming background but now, among all of her teammates, definitely sees a future for herself in agriculture.
Bright future in ag
“I found the competition brilliant to just learn about the basics of farming and it made me realise that I really love it, so I’m definitely thinking about a career in agriculture,” she says.
“I learned so much – especially about the Angus breed and all its desirable traits.”
It also tells a tremendous story of the quality of animal we are renowned for producing and the incredible care our world-class farmers take of their animals.
These traits, the group explain, include easy calving, a shorter gestation period than other breeds, early maturation and fewer costs for the farmer overall, which can offer dairy farmers a more profitable calf and have their cows back in milk more quickly.
“Because the animal matures quickly, they also produce less methane,” says Caoimhe Crean. “They also don’t have to be dehorned, so it’s easier on the farmer and the calf.”
Big names in attendance
Opening the event, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue (who visited earlier in the day and provided a recorded message) said: “At a time when there are growing demands from consumers around the provenance of their food, the Certified Irish Angus Schools Competition is an important bridge between the producer and the consumer.
"It also tells a tremendous story of the quality of animal we are renowned for producing and the incredible care our world-class farmers take of their animals.”
Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey Rachael Blackmore was the special guest at this year’s awards ceremony. Rachael, who hails from a farming background and has strong family links to farming, shared her experience of growing up on a farm (again, via video as she could not make the event in person); detailing how this positively impacted her love for animals, career and sporting achievements.
Charles says choosing a winner from this year’s five finalist groups was one of the most difficult decisions he’s had to make.
“They’re all fantastic, they all equally deserve credit for what they’ve done and it seems almost unfair to single one [group] out,” he says. “It’s almost like someone who comes here to play a match and loses by a point – there’s nothing in it.
If they aren’t farming, he says they become more understanding and knowledgeable consumers.
"And for the 35 groups exhibiting [today], to pick five from that is a massive challenge. That 35 have come from 160-odd applications, and to get to this point takes a lot of effort, commitment and passion.”
He says, since the induction of the schools competition, students around Ireland from both urban and rural backgrounds have been exposed to new innovations and technology that they can bring home to the farm. If they aren’t farming, he says they become more understanding and knowledgeable consumers.
Connected to agriculture
“Not everybody owns land, but everybody owns a part of agriculture,” he says. “It’s very much interwoven into Irish society. We would have urban schools [take part] who have their own perspective on agriculture and how it should be done.
"They’re the consumers of tomorrow, so engaging them with the people who will be the farmers producing the produce; seeing them together and sharing ideas – this is beneficial to everybody.”
Being in attendance, it was fantastic to see so many young women representing their schools and communities. Charles says it can sometimes be difficult to ensure the female students are equally represented, but this is a great indication of how Irish agriculture is diversifying.
“There is a massive passion among those young women and thank god agriculture is no longer seen as an industry only suitable to males,” he says. “So many young women are coming in, doing really good work and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.”
Paving the way
And this is exactly what the winning team from Gorey Community School hope their win will accomplish.
“I hope, in years to come, people look up to us as winners and finalists in the competition and know they can always text or email if they need help,” says Caoimhe Horan.
“Even in our school,” adds Caoimhe Crean, “we’re the first group to ever enter, so I hope we inspire younger years – not just in this competition, but any competition – to get involved. Just because you haven’t done it before doesn’t mean you can’t.”