The 2020 FBD Young Farmer of the Year was unique in that it was the first time ever that the event was held as a virtual presentation live on social media.
Macra na Feirme’s Facebook hosted the event as the finalists were introduced on Friday, November 27th with IFA President Thomas Duffy thanking all those who applied and took part in the competition, which has been running for 22 years now.
One can only imagine how the four finalists for the Young Farmer of the Year felt as although the virtual presentation was held on the Friday, the winner was not made known until the following day.
When announced, it was Co Galway farmer Dara Killeen who was the winner and he was presented with his award and travel bursary on his farm alongside his family, which meant a great deal to him.
“It was unique in that it was presented at home here and that was great as we had all the family here. I was delighted to win the award,” said Dara.
However, Dara did not just end up with one award as he also won the Dairy Award as well as the Most Climate Change Conscious Young Farmer accolade to make it a remarkable and memorable day for this Eyrecourt based farmer.
“I really wasn’t expecting to win any category never mind three, it was a big surprise and it really was for everyone in the family,” he stressed.
The aim of the competition is to recognise and reward the top young farmers in the country, who are the future of the farming sector. Dara certainly fits that bracket as he and his father Charles have made huge changes on their farm to ensure their future.
Having been sheep and beef farmers for many years, the decision was taken to transfer to dairy farming as Dara revealed that they were at a crossroads.
“I took over the farm at a young age as my father stepped back. We felt that we had two choices, which were to keep at the sheep and beef, which meant that I would need a second income as farming alone would not be enough to sustain us or change to dairy farming and build up farm profitability, which is what we decided to do.”
So, from having 500 ewes and 120 beef cattle, Dara set out to make the transition to dairy farming and he revealed that he sought advice from a number of parties.
“I had to set out a business plan and speak to the bank. We would have a good relationship with them and that is important. It is good to be able to pick up the phone and speak to someone there about any enquiries that I might have. I also joined a number of discussion groups to get advice on changing over, while I have a cousin who done something similar and he was a great source of information.”
Dara admitted that the changeover was gradual, but it also meant that it was a hectic period.
“When I think back, I’m not sure how we got through it. We had to manage as best we could and we got there in the end and now we have been fully operational as a dairy farmer since 2019.”
While many aspects of farming are the same regardless of what livestock you have, Dara had to learn a new skillset and he felt that one group in particular was a massive help.
“I joined a dairy discussion group prior to starting dairying and this group came to the farm and they were a great help in the farmyard planning.”
The last few years have been a massive learning experience for Dara and his family, while he revealed that he also picked up huge experience eleven years ago.
“I went to New Zealand in 2010 for six months and I was actually working on a dairy farm, which was ironic because at the time, we weren’t really thinking about changing over, but I learned a great deal there and just to see how they structure their farms and there is more emphasis on the fact that farming is a business out there, more so than a way of life here.”
Family life is very important to Dara as his partner Beatrix and daughter Isabella (7) are his priority as he stressed that it was essential to make time for them and not get caught up in spending hours upon hours on the farm.
“The work has to be done, but we are in a place now where I feel I have the right balance. My family means everything to me and all this is for their future.”
These days, Dara has 20-unit milking parlour that can milk 130 cows an hour and with a herd of 153 cows, his twice daily milking takes about an hour and a half each time.
“I’m happy where we are at now. I’ve no plans to expand further as to do so would mean we would have to take on more land, so the best thing is to consolidate what we have and improve on that.
“I need to identify the bottom ten percent of the herd and look at ways of improving their yield, while we are looking to grow more grass on the land we have.”
Dara pointed out that necessary work carried out on the farm such as slurry, silage, etc is carried out by contractors, many of who have been working for the Killeen family for decades.
“We would be using the same contractors for many years and we would have a good relationship with them.”
So, what advice would Dara give to anyone considering the same change? “Don’t rush into anything and get as much advice as possible before proceeding. Focus on the quality of the stock as this will pay off in the long run, you might have to pay that bit more, but it will be worth it. Have a good relationship with your bank and accountant as both will have more knowledge on the financial side of the business and finally have a good business plan.”
Mob: 086 0712656
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 9 No 2, March/April 2021