New Monitor Farm will help Northern Ireland’s farmers face the future

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Around 75 Northern Ireland’s farmers flocked to the launch of AHDB’s new Monitor Farm near Downpatrick hosted by Richard Orr at Meadow Farm.

Richard said: “I wanted to host a Monitor Farm so I could be challenged, rather than just sticking to what we have always been doing.”

As host of the Monitor Farm, Richard was pleased with the positive reception given to the new project.

“It feels good to be on our way,” Richard said. “It’s great to see there’s potential to get people on board to learn, ask questions and challenge their own businesses.”

Farm agronomist David Townley, one of the people helping to steer the project, said: “Farmers need to learn. We need to progress. There are big challenges ahead.”

After a farm walk taking in barley variety trials, maize and hybrid rye, growers at the meeting put their heads together to set out their priorities for the three years of the Monitor Farm project.

The list of topics and challenges included:

Soil structure in extreme conditions
Soil nutrition
Incorporating more organic matter into soil
Profitability post-Brexit
Cover crops
Plant health, especially with the loss of chemicals
Weed control
Rotation and lack of entry opportunity for first wheats

Host Richard and other farmers in the group will be using AHDB’s Farmbench programme to analyse their business costs and underpin all their discussions.

Tim Isaac, AHDB Head of Arable Knowledge Exchange, said: “By working together, farmers can come up with solutions to common challenges, especially given all the changes coming up.”

Richard added: “Local farmers need to prepare their businesses, to understand their costs of production and what they’re doing right or wrong.

“Hopefully together we’ll move forward as an industry and be a bit more resilient for the future.”

Meadow Farm facts

Richard Orr farms with his father at Meadow Farm in Downpatrick. He grows winter wheat and spring and winter barley on 75 arable ha and the rotation also includes potatoes, turnips and grass. The soil is a dry, free-draining medium, stony loam with good organic matter. Richard has previously hosted AHDB winter barley variety trials for the Recommended Lists. His aim is to grow the business while becoming more efficient, and to add value by marketing produce more directly to the end user, such as with his potatoes which he sells in the farm shop. During the three years of the Monitor Farm programme Richard hopes to share learning with fellow farmers and challenge his thinking, to ultimately become a better farmer.

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