This is the 17th year of the awards, run by Macra na Feirme in partnership with the IFA.
In an exclusive interview with the Irish Farmers Journal after the announcement, Jonathan revealed that he was “pretty ecstatic". "I wasn’t expecting to win it at all,” he said.
Jonathan Marry farms at Little Grange, Drogheda, Co Louth. He has 540 sows and sends 230 pigs to slaughter each week. He also sells over 50 weaners each week and has three full-time staff. The 27-year-old farmer has been farming full-time since the beginning of 2009.
The farm is fully compliant with Bord Bia and is EPA licensed. The staff have a 40-hour week and work every second weekend.
“Teagasc do our figures quarterly,” said Jonathan, “and our figures come in the top 25% in the country. We buy all of our feed compound and breed all of our own replacements.”
“Prices are particularly poor at the moment,” said Jonathan. “We are nearly 40c worse off than this time last year. It’s simply not sustainable to stay at this level going forward. I don’t see it going up in near future, but I’m living in hope.”
Over the next 10 years, the biggest challenges facing the farm are “bio security and keeping up to speed with the top genetics to optimise the farm production as margins are getting significantly tighter.”
Jonathan is running a new breeding program this year and works closely with his genetics company to maximise pigs sold per sow per year. All sows are served by AI and his target is to serve 28 sows per week.
Farm safety is of the utmost importance to the young farmer.
“It’s important to always be vigilant to decrease farm accidents and be conscious of safety on the farm and the person coming after you,” said Jonathan. “Every day I’m dealing with augers, pumps and slurry tanks.”
He has managed to secure funding to expand infrastructure on the farm and plans to make the yard fully self-sufficient over the coming years. To do this, he will build 800 extra fattening places and mill feed at home of the farm.
Jonathan is a member of EPP (European Pig Producers) which will be hosted in Dublin in 2016. He also takes part in a pig discussion group which meets once a month to share and improve information.
Outside of farming, Jonathan has been a member of Macra for nearly 10 years. He goes fishing and hunts locally, rearing 300 of his own ducks every year.
“I am a member of the local gun club and hunting is my favourite pastime. I also participate in an annual 80k charity cycle to raise awareness of suicide.”
Four years ago, he bought a single pig roasting machine as a small venture. With six machines today, the Pig Spit and BBQ Company travels nationwide doing an average of four pigs a weekend.
This year, for the first time, a representative from each enterprise sector could go through from every county. Some 39 young farmers went through to the semi-finals. From these representatives, six finalists were chosen on the day to go through to the final round of interviews with the judges.
Aaron Forde, director and chairman of Ornua, and chief executive officer of Aurivo Co-operative Society Limited, led the team of seven judges to determine Ireland's top young farmer. Speaking at the event, Mr Forde said that the decision was “by no means easy and it was very difficult to separate each of the contestants”.
The candidates were judged according to a number of criteria, including farm business initiative and innovation, levels of farm efficiency and enterprise quality, farm safety and environmental protection awareness, as well as agricultural knowledge and community involvement.
The judging panel included Dr Vanessa Woods of Agri Aware; Willie Fahey, former CEO of IFAC Accountants; Prof. Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc; Peter Young, Irish Farmers Journal; Joe Healy, former Macra president; and Dr Tommy Boland of UCD.
The other five finalists were:Dairy: John Tully, Co GalwayBeef: Thomas O’Connor, Co KildareTillage: Garry Kinsella, Co WicklowSheep: Graham Grothier, Co CarlowWildcard: PJ O’Keeffe, Co Kilkenny
Listen to Odile's interview with Jonathan Marry below