The future is bright for young farmers in Northern Ireland.
That’s the view of Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) president Martyn Blair, who praised this year’s Balmoral Show as the perfect showcase for the future of agriculture.
Day one of the show saw a record number of young competitors, with children as young as 10 presenting animals to the judging panels.
YFCU has 3,000 members which make up 55 clubs in every county in Northern Ireland and it has organised more than 28 competitions over the three days.
“Before the recession there were so many younger people who left their farms to become builders and joiners etc,” said Martyn.
“But the recession finished that and it has become more attractive to come back to the family farm.
“The local agricultural college could be filled four times over every year, that shows the demand for young people to come in to the agricultural industry.
“The future of farming is very positive at the minute, the agri-food industry is the largest in Northern Ireland and young farmers have a massive part to play in that because we are the future.”
Winner of the YFCU young handlers competition, 14-year-old James McComb, said that preparation for show had been intense.
“It’s about preparing your animal and having knowledge of your animal.
“The judging isn’t about the skill of your animal but on you and the competition is very tough, so I’m delighted to have won,” he said.
James’s father Brian, a cattle farmer from Aldergrove, Co Antrim, said he has been coming to the Balmoral Show for 45 years and has been bringing his son since he could walk.
“It’s in his blood,” he said.
“He works hard and he helps on the farm for an hour-and-a-half before he goes to school in the mornings.
“Sometimes he gets a lie-in on a Sunday.
“It’s great to see him him succeed within this environment, farming comes naturally to him but the Balmoral Show allows him to have a bit of fun with farming and compete against people his own age.”
Sam McConnell (25), a sheep-shearer from Annalong, Co Down, said the competition had been the toughest he had ever encountered.
“There’s no luxury in sheep shearing,” he said.
“Everyone here has learned their skills on the farm and their practice consists of their daily work on the farm.
“I’ve been farming from the time I could walk and I’ve been coming to the show every year since. It’s a great event and a great advertisement for the skills of young farmers in Northern Ireland.”
This year the Sheep Shearing World Championships are being held in Gorey, Co Wexford, in a few weeks’ time.
John Dalla (25) travelled from south Australia to take part in both showcases.
“It’s my first time at the show and I’m impressed by the size of the show and the level of agriculture,” he said.
“It’s a great opportunity to meet farmers my age and talk to them about the industry.
“I joked with a few of the guys that they had an advantage of increased rainfall when it came to farming but I don’t think they see it that way.”
He added: “Hopefully I can do well in the competition and take that on to the World Championships in a few weeks.
“But more importantly, I’m here to enjoy myself and everyone I’ve met so far has made me very welcome.”