A huge honour was bestowed upon John Cullen from Ballymurn, Enniscorthy on November 1st, when he was named as the Tillage Farmer of the Year at the fifth annual Zurich Insurance Farmer of the Year Awards. We travelled to County Wexford and interrupted John’s busy schedule to find out what it means to him to gain such prestigious national recognition.
It was a Thursday night never to be forgotten for John Cullen and his family when the popular Wexford man was named as 2018 Zurich Farm Insurance Tillage Farmer of the Year at a lavish ceremony attended by 180 people in Athlone’s Hodson Bay Hotel.
Recognising excellence in the Irish farming industry, the Zurich Insurance Farmer of the Year Awards highlight and acknowledge the top performers in one of the most successful and important sectors within our economy. While awards and accolades are obviously not the reason why John has been farming full-time for the past 37 years and counting, he admits it was nevertheless a welcome bonus to be acknowledged:
“It’s always nice to win something,” he reflects. “It’s the same with everything in life. Sport, for example – be it rugby or the GAA – if you win something it’s great for the team and their supporters. The whole country was happy after Ireland beat New Zealand in rugby and it’s great to experience that feeling.
“I’ve been involved in GAA down through the years and even to watch the games is incredible. But to win is something else.
“I was pleased to be chosen as the Tillage Farmer of the Year but you wouldn’t get carried away over it. I’m at this a long time now so you’d like to think you’re doing it right. A lot of work goes into the farm and the business and we’re making a living out of it – that’s the main thing, the reason why we’re here.”
John has been farming in Ballymurn since he was 16. Today, he farms a total of 1,100 acres, one-third of which is owned, another third leased and the remainder shared. He lives alongside his wife, Karen, and five daughters close to the family farm where he grew up, all members of the Cullen family contributing to the success of the excellent tillage enterprise and associated animal feeds merchant business – John Cullen Grains Ltd., which has been trading since 2005.
“My father, Myles, did mixed farming – tillage, beef and a bit of contracting – and I started working with him when I left school. I have to say, I have been very lucky with the opportunities my father gave me. The tradition on a lot of farms at the time was that the father remained the boss but I had two brothers and he gave each of us our own responsibilities and, while we worked together, we were each able to develop our own separate identities.”
The tillage enterprise –yielding winter barley, winter wheat, spring barley, spring beans, oil seed rape – and the animal feeds business work hand in hand and complement one another perfectly.
From a state-of-the-art new milling facility, which was opened in 2017, John Cullen Grain Ltd. uses locally-sourced oats, barley, wheat and beans to produce a full range of fully-traceable (bulk or bagged) animal feed rations. The feed range is suitable for beef cattle, dairy cows, sheep and horses and a choice of course rations or milled nuts is available. If preferred, high-quality straight ingredients are available and minerals are stocked in bucket, block and powder form.
“Everything we grow ourselves goes into the feeds and we also buy in a lot of other grains from local farmers within a 20-mile radius,” John reveals. Ideally, would he prefer to have more land so as to be in a position to produce more of his own grain?
“We certainly have the machinery to do it. If anything, we’re over-spec’d machinery-wise and if the opportunity to acquire more land nearby comes along we will definitely take it. Land is very difficult to get here but I’m confident that the time will come when it becomes available.”
Shared farms is one novel way around this and John shares with three local farmers, an arrangement that works out ideally for all parties.
The 2018 Tillage Farmer of the Year produces up to 7,000 tonnes of grain on his own farm and buys in almost double that. “The outlook going forward would be to try to use all our own grain so as to maximise our return,” he notes. “We do all our own spraying and fertilising and also do contract spraying and slurry spreading.
“My brother, Francis, looks after the tilling, sowing and harvesting, while another brother, Stephen, looks after the straw and baling. In addition to that, I have a couple of other lads working on the farm and they also help out with a little bit of local contracting.”
The animal feeds are sold locally and also, more and more, to farmers from outside the county. “There was very strong demand this year. We were very busy during the summer.”
Looking to the future, John intends to adapt a positive and progressive approach to his award-winning family enterprise: “You have to be positive about it and keep doing what you are doing whilst also looking for ways to improve, especially with regards to soil structure,” he concludes.
“You have to revise things all the time and look for improvements in both quality and efficiency. Improvement of soil condition is the biggest factor and we have invested in soil nutrition through the use of cover crops. As our land base isn’t getting any bigger, we have to improve the performance of the land we have.”
John Cullen Grain Ltd.,
Tel: 053 9177950
Email: [email protected]
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 1, February/March 2019