Award for farmer adding global flavour to beef trade
A Northern Ireland beef producer for Marks & Spencer has been rewarded for his talent at a Farming for the Future presentation at the Balmoral Show.
Noel Hooke, from Co Down, won the Young Producer Award which champions forward-thinking individuals whose technical ability or business aptitude promises to make a positive impact on their sector, and who demonstrate they have what it takes to lead the next generation of farmers.
The Linden Foods producer has travelled the world, working with top pedigree cattle herds, to gain a wealth of knowledge in breeding and preparing cattle. At the tender age of 18, he won an Aberdeen Angus competition in Australia.
Mr Hooke recently returned to the family farm and has shown himself to be keen to use his knowledge to make a difference to their beef finishing enterprise, which supplies M&S through meat supplier Linden Foods.
Grassland management is a key area where Mr Hooke is making progress, using ideas from New Zealand. On the farm, he has implemented a rotational grazing system of small paddocks and has begun a comprehensive reseeding programme, monitoring new grass through regular soil sampling.
Mr Hooke and his father are also building a new, 120 capacity calf shed, to accommodate another of the young 'farmpreneur's' expanding business ventures.
Here, young Mr Hooke is selling bulls from his small Aberdeen Angus herd to dairy farmers at a competitive price, with the understanding that he gets the first opportunity to buy back the Aberdeen Angus dropped calves from that farm. Mr Hooke said: "The farm has been in our family since 1810 and I hope to continue to develop and expand the business and keep it at the forefront of the beef industry.
"I believe that, by building a supply chain like this, we can deliver a more consistent product for consumers."
Mr Hooke also provides a livery service for show and sale animals, carefully looking after their every need and training them for showing in a purpose-built building.
Conservation is also important to the Hooke family. The farm has five acres dedicated to wild bird cover, and three acres of wetlands which provide habitats to a variety of endangered birds and mammals. The family also provides a home for a pair of barn owls - one of just 100 pairs living in Northern Ireland.
Mr Hooke said: "I think it's important to try new things - not everything will work, but you learn from your mistakes."
Steve McLean, head of agriculture and fisheries at M&S said: "The Farming for the Future awards are now in their eighth year, acknowledging the dedication and commitment our farmers and growers are making towards Plan A, and sharing best practice amongst the agricultural community across Ireland and the UK.
"Noel is a very worthy winner and has proved this by demonstrating his innovative thinking, commercial success and social responsibility in the way he manages and executes his business."
Mr McLean added: "Our judges were particularly impressed with Noel's enthusiasm to roll out learnings from abroad back on the family farm, his dedication to producing a consistent, quality product for M&S and his forward thinking approach to the beef industry with a range of enterprising ideas."
Mr Hooke received a £1,000 prize for the award and has been entered into an Overall Farming for the Future Champion Award for 2015, to be presented later this year.