Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew, was crowned 2023 Certified Irish Angus School Competition winners. The four students Peter O’Neill, Amy Higgins, Oisín Colleran and Cormac Delaney secured the win after impressing the judges with their approach to the prestigious cattle-rearing competition, now celebrating its ninth year.

The final of the Competition took place on Friday, 31 March in Croke Park. Over 350 people attended including 42 school groups - the largest number of students to exhibit in the event’s history.

About the competition

In addition to educating second-level students about certified Irish Angus beef, this competition also inspires them to consider a career in the Irish agri-food industry.

Finalists are challenged to rear five Irish Angus calves over 18 months while completing a research project. The project themes cover topics such as: “Improving animal genetics”, “Sustainable agriculture”, “Farm health & safety” and “Increasing consumer awareness of the quality of Irish food and in particular Irish beef”.

Finalists receive the financial benefit of selling the animals to the processors at the end of the project; which amounted to an average €7,500 for this year’s cohort. The winning students also receive an additional grant of €2,000 for their further education. 

Fuelling enthusiasm

Speaking at the final, the general manager of Certified Irish Angus, Charles Smith, said, “Today is a great day for farming, agriculture and beef production. As farmers, we have become a little cautious about facing environmental issues. The young people here today are enthusiastic and positive about addressing those issues.

“Young people don’t see the dark clouds that we might see; therefore, it’s hugely positive here today. Their courage is the greatest asset we have,” he added.

Charles sees Certified Irish Angus as a key element to more sustainable beef production in the future. The competition introduces young people who are interested in agriculture and beef production to Angus.

He says, “The interest is not just growing in beef production, but in all aspects of rural life.”

Competition winners

The winning group undertook a research project focusing on “Improving the quality of beef for consumers”. They conducted a survey to give students a deeper understanding of beef purchasing habits.

The results of the survey showed:

1. Consumers are prioritising quality over price, with greater attention being given to the provenance of the meat.

2. Consumers placed a high emphasis on eco-friendly packaging when purchasing beef.

3. The need to create a greater awareness among consumers of the sustainability credentials of beef.

The winning group believe that beef farming as a profession needs to take the concerns of the consumer on board and not simply focus on final weights and prices.

Teacher Catherine Smith has been the driving force behind the pupils from Holy Rosary College entering the competition over the last eight years. She has played a key part in supporting the students with their projects.

Speaking to Irish Country Living at the final she said, “I am still in shock myself. All the teams were fantastic. Behind the scenes there is a huge amount of work, they were very dedicated students.

“One of the winning students doesn’t come from a farming background and the competition has given him an interest in a career in agriculture”.

She adds, “The other students were able to teach him about vaccinating and dosing [for example].”

The group posted project updates on a notice board regularly, creating great interest in the school. Catherine explains, “Next year’s transition year students all want to enter the competition.”

She has also seen an increase in the number of students choosing ag science for the leaving certificate.

Flats to Farms

The runners-up in the 2023 competition were Mya Gray McCluskey, Niamh Dunne and Ella Gannon from St Louis High School in Rathmines.

The Dublin city dwellers investigated the theme of “Reassuring consumers on animal welfare” and created an educational initiative called “Flats to farms” to show the realities of Irish agriculture.

In response to recent negative advertising campaigns concerning animal welfare, the students were keen to discover the truth about Irish livestock production. They created an educational programme to raise awareness of the high welfare standards of Irish agriculture for their school and community.

?Ms Lanigan, who mentored the team during the project, said, “They live in Dublin city and they knew nothing about agriculture, but they took it on and were very courageous. They investigated claims made in advertising campaigns by animal welfare groups to get to the truth about animal welfare standards on Irish farms.”

Outstanding Achievement by an Individual Award

Ryan Reilly from Ardscoil Phádraig in Granard, Co Longford was awarded an outstanding achievement award, recognising his contribution to the competition.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all. The standard of all of the groups was just phenomenal. As a group we didn’t win the overall prize, but my individual prize is ?representative of my group.”

The most beneficial part of taking part in the competition for Ryan was the development of his public speaking skills. He said, “At the beginning of COVID-19, everyone felt a bit anxious, [the competition] has definitely helped me gain confidence.”

Continuous growth

The competition is setting up for its 10 year anniversary in 2024. With 42 impressive projects on display, this was their biggest pool of projects to date. Students displayed their projects in Croke Park and spoke to a number of judges. The five finalists will be announced at the National Ploughing Championships in September 2023.

More info

Visit https://www.certifiedirishangus.ie/schools/ to learn more