Pig farmer is FBD's Young Farmer of the Year 2015
Jonathan Marry, a pig farmer from Tullyallen Macra in Co Louth, won the FBD Young Farmer of the Year title 2015 on 1 August 2015 at a banquet in Ballina, Co Mayo. Odile Evans reports.

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.

Other interests

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 Galway
  • Beef: Thomas O’Connor, Co Kildare
  • Tillage: Garry Kinsella, Co Wicklow
  • Sheep: Graham Grothier, Co Carlow
  • Wildcard: PJ O’Keeffe, Co Kilkenny
  • Listen to Odile's interview with Jonathan Marry below

    LacPatrick increases milk price in the north and south
    LacPatrick suppliers north and south of the border have recieved a welcome boost to their June milk cheques, as LacPatrick announces an increase in base price.

    LacPatrick has increased its June base milk price for suppliers north and south of the border.

    Suppliers in the south will receive a base price of 29.4c/l excluding VAT, an increase of 0.7c/l on May’s price.

    Suppliers in the north will receive a base price of 26.5ppl for milk supplied in June. This is an increase of 0.5ppl on May supplies.

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    LacPatrick joins Glanbia as the only processors to increase milk price this month.

    Aurivo, Dairygold, Kerry and Lakeland all held their base price in recent days.

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    Five heifers struck down in six days by lead poisoning in Mayo
    The current dry spell has increased the risk of poisoning, according to the veterinarian who attended a case in Mayo where heifers died from lead poisoning. Ger Flanagan reports.

    A dairy farmer has been left "shocked" and "sickened" after five of his heifers died in just six days due to severe lead poisoning that they picked up on commonage land in Mayo.

    The farmer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said his herd was grazing on land in the Dererin area of Ballintubber when they were poisoned and that he was completely unaware that they had been poisoned due to how quickly the animals died.

    “The commanage is sectioned off with electric fencing wire and on the Wednesday [June 27 last] I found one heifer in a bog hole,” he told The Mayo News. “It wasn’t stuck or anything, but it was frothing at the mouth, didn’t look in great shape and died within a few hours.

    Testing

    “I rang the vet, and he thought maybe the heifer had been in the trench for too long because it was such a hot day. On Saturday then, I found another one in a trench, frothing at the mouth, and even though she got an injection, she was dead the following day.

    “Before the vets came out on Sunday to do a post mortem, a third one was wandering around, and when he [the vet] went to treat her, she was in a trench and had died.”

    The following Monday, after the farmer brought the third dead cow to Sligo for testing in the lab, it was revealed that the cows had died due to severe lead poisoning.

    The land was then inspected to try to determine the source of the poisoning. The farmer found a stone covered in red paint lying in a ditch and sent it to the lab that had tested the cow. The results showed that the stone was covered in a "highly toxic lead paint".

    Two more cows that were displaying symptoms similar to those shown by the deceased animals were subsequently put down on the farm.

    “I could not believe it,” the farmer said. “It was probably old red lead paint that was used on carts years ago and dumped there and the cows might have licked it.

    “I don’t think it’s produced any more. I wouldn’t have known what it was if I had seen it. Even the vet was baffled – he was used to lead poisoning, but with such a severe dose, they didn’t develop symptoms.”

    Appeal

    Local vet George O’Malley, who treated the heifers, revealed that the content of lead absorbed into the kidneys of the farmer’s cows was "as high as they have ever seen in the lab".

    O’Malley, who has over 40 years’ experience as a veterinary surgeon, says the lack of moisture in the grass leads to cows going "mooching" (covering long distances looking for water), and he appealed to farmers to keep an extra eye on their stock for poisoning during the fine weather.

    “After this prolonged spell of dry weather, cattle will go mooching,” he told The Mayo News. “They do things they normally wouldn’t do and are prone to eating anything because of the low mineral content of our soil,” he said, explaining that the cattle are craving something they are not getting from the grass.

    No chance of survival

    O’Malley went on to say that the affected cattle in Ballintubber could not have recovered once they had ingested the poison.

    “I have seen lead poisoning all my life; I’m nearly an expert on it at this stage. There are different types of lead and some are absorbed more rapidly than others. They [the five heifers] had no chance of survival.

    “I would advise farmers to watch their cows every day and be aware of all the poisonous plants in the ditches,” he continued. “In Mayo, there are lots of ditches with poisonous plants. The animal’s liver can’t cope with the chemicals they may ingest,” he said, adding: “It’s very difficult to recognise a poisoned animal until it dies.”

    Thousands lost

    The farmer estimates that, financially, his loss is "in the thousands" – and that this will increase should he decide to replace the stock.

    Although it comes as a huge blow, both financially and mentally, the farmer says he has no choice but to move on.

    “It’s a bad shock and a sickener when you see heifers likes that,” he said. “I was walking up every morning, thinking that the first thing I will have to do is ring [fallen-animal collector] Vincent Maloney to take away a dead animal.

    “That would be another €100 gone, along with the lab costs and vet costs that I have had to suffer. I had no insurance for that type of thing because you can’t really insure against it.

    “But I’m over it now and just have to move on.”

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