When hailing from a farming background, more often than not, people stay in the industry and Wexford native Laura Johnston is no different in that respect.
Laura was reared on a mixed farm in Clone, Monamolin, Gorey, Co Wexford and studied at UCD where she gained a degree in Agricultural Science specialising in Animal Science in 2005. She then went to work for renowned Agri consultant James Kirwan for eight and a half years. When James decided to retire, Laura took the monumental decision to start up her own business and in January 2014, Clone Agricultural Consultants Ltd first opened its doors to their customers.
Clone Agricultural Consultants Ltd provide agricultural advisory services to farming enterprises and government agencies. They specialise in dairy, beef, equine, sheep and tillage and have also previously worked with the Racing Academy and Centre of Education in Kildare and Coláiste an Átha in Kilmuckridge. They are also involved in the completion of applications for all EU and nationally funded schemes, including GLAS, BPS, Organics, Sports Capital Grants and RDP approved schemes.
To say the last six years have been busy for Laura would certainly be an understatement as not only has she successfully built up the business which now has offices in Birr, Co Offaly and Monamolin, Gorey but she also somehow found time to not only be a member of the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) but was elected the first female President of the Association in its 40 year history.
So, we were delighted when she agreed to take some time out of her busy schedule and sit down to speak to Irish Tractor & Agri about all things farming.
“It has been a busy few years’ alright, but I was delighted to be elected president and serve for two years,” said Laura. “I am still a member of the National council. I had served as vice-president for a year before being voted in as president. It was an incredibly challenging role, but it is one that I learned so much from and it was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.
“It was difficult time wise trying to juggle running a business and having to attend meetings and addressing issues as President, but it was very interesting.”
At the time of Laura’s election, a new CAP Reform programme was being introduced, while the Knowledge Transfer Scheme was also being prepared meaning that it was a crucial time for Irish farming.
“There was a lot of change coming at the time and that all had to be dealt with it, but there is a very strong council in place and excellent administration staff which meant I had tremendous support in securing the best possible outcome for our farmer clients.”
The ACA was established in 1979 to represent independent Agricultural Consultants in Ireland. The Agricultural Consultants Association currently have 144 professional members with a further 271 professional, technical and administration staff employed with members spread throughout Ireland providing business and financial advice to approximately 50,000 farmers.
Ever since her term as president ended, Laura has been equally as busy focusing on her business and the vast number of clients who seek her advice and expertise.
Building trust between the client and herself has always been to the forefront of Laura’s mind and she admits that you must approach each farmer and the requirements of their farming enterprise differently.
“A lot of farmers don’t like change, so you have to get them on side and earn their trust. I would now consider a lot of my clients good friends. There is still a lot of the older generation of farmers out there that may be living on their own and they may not see anyone from one end of the week to the next.
“So, it is great to be able to be in touch with them and make sure they are doing ok, while providing them with our impartial advice. There is a mental health aspect to it too, and it is great to see people talking more about that.
“I think once people realise, I’m a straight talker this stands to me when dealing with my clients. They respect that, one of the most important pieces of advice I give farmers from the start is to make sure they have a good accountant and solicitor who understand agriculture.”
“Farming has changed a lot in recent years, there is a younger generation coming through and they are looking to get the maximum from their land and stock. They are well educated and well-travelled in most cases. Dairy is doing very well since the abolishment of the milk quota, but beef is still an area of concern. With Brexit coming in, there is a lot of uncertainty over what tariffs will have to be paid for beef being shipped to the U.K.
Laura works across Wexford, Waterford, Carlow, Laois, Kilkenny, Offaly, Kildare, Wicklow and Tipperary and has also been an adult education lecturer in the Racing Academy and Centre of Education in Kildare and a lecturer in Coláiste an Átha.
Laura revealed that learning so much from her former boss was a huge help when starting out on her own. “Working with James was a great learning experience and then when he decided to retire, he was a huge help when I decided to set up Clone Agri. As I work on my own being a member of ACA has been a huge benefit, there is a strong membership with diverse specialities and years of experience which I have been able to utilise when setting up my own business.”
Clone Agricultural Consultants
Email: [email protected]
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 8 No 3, October/November 2020