Do you know Ireland's best farmer?
The very best in Irish farming is being recognised across all sectors and awarded once again this year in Ireland's premier awards programme for agriculture, the Zurich Farm Insurance Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards.
"It's given me a whole new impetus. I'm raising the bar for myself", says current Farmer of the Year Tom Dunne, who describes his win as giving him and his family "such a feel-good factor. I've learned as much in the last 12 months since I won the title, as I have in the past 5 years," adds the organic beef farmer from Durrow, Co Laois.
"It's a good business decision to enter - a great way of benchmarking", adds Chair of the Judging Panel and Farming Independent columnist John Fagan.
There are seven categories including Sheep Farmer of the Year; Beef Farmer of the Year; Dairy Farmer of the Year and Tillage Farmer of the Year.
Innovators leading the way in Irish farming are invited to showcase their work and enter the Rising Star category and there's a Lifetime Achievement Award to honour those who have made exceptional contributions to the industry.
Farm safety has never been more critical and this will be acknowledged with an award for Excellence in Farm Safety.
Tom Dunne says he was "stunned" when having won his category, he then went on to win the overall Grand Prix last year, particularly as the competition attracted thousands of entries. "It was a big boost for organic farming. I wasn't expecting to win. My family and my mother Mary got a great kick out of it."
Tom (53) and his wife Gemma, have two daughters Dervla and Bronagh and their beef operation produces year-round supplies to the Good Herdsmen organic beef processors, based in Cahir, Co. Tipperary.
Tom has been farming organically for the past eight years, concentrating on finishing beef and he is a founder member of the Irish Organic Beef Producers. He transitioned to organic beef after originally starting with sheep and sucklers. He produces his own silage straw, plus he grows his own wheat and pea combination cereals for feed.
"It was great that organic farming was a winner," explains Tom. "I think it highlighted the fact there is a viable living to be made from organic farming in Ireland. Sometimes people can frown on organic, look down on it or see it in a different light - but I think the win put it out there with the rest of them."
Encouraging other farmers to enter, he says: "If you feel you have a product and it's good enough to be out there with the best - why not? - just go for it."
"Some farmers don't like the limelight - they just want to keep their heads down and keep working. I didn't have a problem entering last year as I've gained hugely from the number of other farmers I've met since I won - transferring ideas just through chat and learning."
Encouraging farmers to enter, John Fagan says: "It's a great way of benchmarking your business against other farmers."
"If you win, you get a great prize. If you don't you are guaranteed to still learn something," says John, whose farm in Westmeath hosted RTÉ's 'Big Week on the Farm' last year.
"This competition acknowledges the guys that are doing well. We all learn from them and become better farmers as a result," continues John.
"This competition is very important and it is a great one for all farmers to get involved in. It is wonderful to have Zurich on board as sponsors to acknowledge the great work that farmers are putting in to their farms across the country."
"Everybody should enter. There's nothing to lose and it's good to analyse your own farm and look at what you are doing. It's a good business decision to enter if you want to run a successful business and it's a chance to get your place in shape and be judged by experts. "It's not about publicity - it's about taking your business seriously".
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