Co Armagh vegetable supplier wins coveted Belfast Telegraph Cup
The man behind Gilfresh Produce has been awarded the historic Belfast Telegraph Cup at a farming industry event.
Thomas Gilpin, who set up one of Northern Ireland's most successful fresh vegetable suppliers in the mid-1980s and supplies to some of the biggest retail multiples in the UK and Ireland, was awarded the cup at the Ulster Farmers' Union Annual President's Dinner at the weekend.
The businessman and farmer, who received an MBE in 2013, said he was "shocked" to have won the title for his contribution to the farming and food production industry here.
"It's a true honour to take the award," he said. "It was a bit of a shock as I don't know who put my name forward, but I was notified that I had been put forward but never heard a word about it afterwards. I thought that was the end of it."
Mr Gilpin has grown his firm from a "mere 4.25 acre field" to an operation that turns over £18m and employs 140 at its site in Loughall in Co Armagh.
He explained his seat at the back of the room at the UFU's Annual President's Dinner gave him further indication that he hadn't won the award.
"Sitting away at the back of the room, I thought that there wasn't any chance of winning so when they called my name it was a shock," he said.
"We are honoured on behalf the company Gilfresh Produce, Co Armagh to receive it."
Gilfresh also supports 40 growers, most of which are located in Northern Ireland.
It has also invested millions of pounds in a bid to reduce the company's carbon footprint.
Mr Gilpin has installed a wind turbine and anaerobic digestion plant which uses vegetable waste to produce power to operate the vegetable processing plant.
It was the first of its kind to be installed in Northern Ireland and represented a spend of £2.5m, allowing Gilfresh to ferment up to 120 tonnes of organic waste a week.
Today Gilfresh is mostly run by Mr Gilpin's son and staff as he focuses on the farm.
But he said that an air of uncertainty still surrounds the business, thanks to Brexit.
"It's going along steadily but we are waiting on Brexit to see what impact that will have," he added.
"One-third of our business is sold in the south of Ireland and we have no idea how that will end.
"I think we will still not have completed Brexit this time next year and I think Europe wants to keep us in."