Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

Meet the contenders for the Farmer of the Year Awards


Tim, Jackie and Mark Ronaldson
Tim, Jackie and Mark Ronaldson
Tom, Sean and Alice O'Sullivan
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

Siobhán English profiles the shortlisted candidates in the Beef, Dairy, Sheep and Tillage categories for the Zurich Farm Insurance Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards which take place tonight in Dublin.


Name: Michael Callinan

Age: 46

Location: Skeagh, Inagh, Co Clare

Area Farmed: 82 acres

Type of Farming: All beef

Michael is a second-generation farmer, having taken over the family farm from his father Michael Snr 25 years ago.

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Originally a dairy farm, Michael made the decision 20 years ago to switch to beef only, and it is one he does not regret. As well as breeding a small herd of pure-bred Limousines, Michael also buys in some calves and sells them off as weanlings. Michael is very proud of his win of the Livestock Award during the 2016 FBD Farmyard Awards and also the many prizes he has won over the years at the Weanling and Show days in Ennis as well as the Premium Sales in Roscrea.

Married to Chris, they have three children -Róisín (16), Liam (14) and Mark (12). All take a keen interest in the farm, especially Mark who has some cows of his own. Michael is grateful to have Joey Larkin as his Teagasc advisor and says he always "fills in the gaps" when required.

Name: Jimmy Guinnane

Age: 52

Location: Fountain, Ennis, Co Clare

Area Farmed: 55 acres

Type of Farming: All beef

A part-time farmer, Jimmy is well-known throughout west Clare for his role as delivery man for Brennans Bread for the past 30 years. His day starts at 5.30am when he collects the bread from Annacotty, outside Limerick. From there he travels west towards Ennis, also taking in Kilrush, Kilkee and surrounds. His daily mileage is a staggering 330 kilometres. Most evenings he does not return home until 7.30pm, after which he tends to his herd of 53 pure-bred Limousine cows and sucklers.

In recent weeks, Jimmy received his Quality Assurance Certificate from Bord Bia, for which he received a hugely impressive mark of 96pc.

Jimmy inherited the original farm from his aunt and later purchased an additional 25 acres, some of which lies close to the famous farmhouse used in the 'Father Ted' series in the 1990s.

Jimmy's daughter Janice (23) lives close by and works for Breen's Farm Machinery in Ennis. "It's great to have her input when a machine breaks down!" he said.

Name: Eamonn Holohan

Age: 64

Location: Rathdowney, Co Laois

Area farmed: 250 acres (100 rented)

Type of farming: All beef (sucklers to weanlings)

Eamonn was nominated by his son Willie (32), who works part-time at the farm in the afternoons. Eamonn's other son, Edward (36), is full-time on the farm, while their brother Michael (33) is involved in the meat business in Norway.

Willie and Edward are now third generation farmers and care to carry on the tradition passed down by their grandfather, Michael. Their mother Mary is also a key component of the business and looks after the paperwork.

From a herd of 140 cows, they calve all year round, producing a constant cash flow. The use of two Saler bulls makes for easy calving.


Name: Aaron Holden

Age: 23

Location: Piltown, Co Kilkenny

Aread farmed: 145 acres (including 30 leased from neighbour)

Type of farming: Dairy only

As one of the youngest nominees at 23, Aaron Holden inherited his love for farming through his late father Tom, who passed away from cancer in late 2012 at the age of 42. He took over the family farm at the tender age of 18.

Aaron later completed his Green Cert studies at nearby Kildalton College.

“A year after Dad died, we installed a Dairymaster milking parlour which has made milking our herd of 90 cows so much ­easier,” he says. “And last year I downloaded the Herdwatch app, which has also been a fantastic tool.”

During the summer months, Aaron’s long day starts as early as 5.30am for morning milking. He then heads to his day-job with farming contractor Eddie Doyle. If he is working late, his neighbour Sean Knox usually covers evening milking and he can also rely on mum Pamela and girlfriend Caroline O’Shea when the need arises.

The farm is Bord Bia Quality Assured.

Name: Martin Doyle

Location: St ­Mullins, Co Carlow

Area farmed:  210 acres (half leased)

Type of farming: Dairy only

“I am not used to being in the limelight down here!” Martin said of his surprise at being among the shortlisted candidates for Dairy Farmer of the Year. Martin inherited the family farm, which he now runs along with his wife Joan.

Their three sons all take a keen interest in farming and the eldest, Alex (20), is currently studying Agricultural Science in UCD. Conor (17) and Fearghal (15) are currently busy preparing for their Leaving and Junior Cert exams but will no doubt enjoy getting back to the farm in the summer months. Martin said the decision some years ago to change the feeding regime for his calves was a wise, cost-saving measure.

“Yogurt is added to the milk and pumped straight from the parlour to the calve sheds, a mixture which greatly reduces scour,” he said.

Name: Tom O’Sullivan

Age: 53

Location: Crookstown, Co Cork

Area farmed: 103 acres

Type of farming: Dairy only

Béal na Blá is famous as the site of the ambush and assassination of Michael Collins in 1922 but the area is also home to nominee Tom O’Sullivan, whose family have been farming this land since 1822.

He is the fifth generation on his father’s side, and ninth on his mother’s side, to keep the tradition alive. Today, Tom milks a herd of 85 cows.

Along with his wife Alice, they have three sons, Pat (26), Alan (25) and Sean (20). All are well travelled, with Pat a PE teacher in the Middle East and Alan doing a post-grad in the States. Sean has recently returned from work placement on a farm in New Zealand, having studied Agricultural Science in Kildalton College and WIT, and now hopes to form a partnership with his father on the farm.


Name: Brian Nicholson

Age: 38

Location: Johnstown, via Thurles, Co Kilkenny

Area farmed: 300 acres

Type of farming: All sheep

A graduate of Kildalton College in Co Kilkenny, Brian took over the farm from his grandfather Tom Nicholson on his passing in 2004.

Tom was a well-known trainer and breeder of racehorses, a tradition now upheld by Brian’s father Tom who farms nearby.

Initially farming cattle and sheep, Brian gradually switched his focus solely to sheep and has been growing his flock ever since. It now stands at 1,100 ewes. The flock is made up of Belclare and Texel cross ewes and all ewe lambs are bred to Ile de France, Vendeen and Charollais rams.

In addition to running a busy farm, Brian is a member of Irish Grassland Council and Chairman of the Sheep committee, as well as a member of Teagasc Sheep Stakeholders. He also writes a fortnightly article about sheep farming for the Irish Farmers Journal.

His wife, Alison, is a primary school teacher and they have two children, Mia (6) and Drew (4).

Name: John Earle

Age: Early 50s

Location: Ballycanew, Gorey, Co Wexford

Area farmed: 80 acres

Type of farming: All sheep

John Earle is a fourth-generation farmer and, together with his wife Margaret, runs a busy sheep farm of some 300 ewes. It is a commercial closed flock consisting of Texel, Charollais, and Suffolk-crossed ewes. Originally a beef farm, it was switched over to only sheep some 25 years ago.

John and Margaret’s love for farming has been passed on to all of their six children, with their eldest, Edward (28), now in the process of setting up a partnership with his father. Elizabeth (26) has just completed her PHD with Teagasc and UCD in studying sheep performance in Athenry, while Martha (25) is currently working for a sheep shearing company in Australia. The youngest Gillian (14) is attending secondary school and is developing her flock of Border Leicester sheep. Alice (27) and Jonathan (22) also take an interest in the farm when time allows.

Name: Joe Scahill

Age: 46

Location: Prospect, Westport, Co Mayo

Area farmed: 130 acres

Type of farming: Sheep and cattle

Joe and his wife Cathy run a very successful sheep farm on the foothills of Croagh Patrick. With 600 ewes, the workload can be huge, especially in spring, but the team run a tight ship helped by good facilities and good sheepdogs.

Their daughters Lisa (18) and Kate (16) take a keen interest in the farm, while sons Sean (14) and Joseph (12) are currently working towards developing a pure-bred flock of Blueface Leicester ewes. They will have six ewes for this autumn and they intend doing full recording of parentage and performance with Sheep Ireland.

Joe has been chairman of the Mayo Mule and Greyface Group for the past three years and members are constantly driving to improve quality, conformation and traceability, while generally focusing on offering better sheep to lowland farmers.


Name: Philip Reck

Age: 38

Location: Borovale, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

Area farmed: 4,500 acres

Type of farming: All tillage (winter & spring barley, winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter & spring oats, spring beans, winter rye, cover crops)

Philip Reck has been the farm manager at Walter Furlong Grain Ltd since 2002 and during this time, he has seen the business go from strength to strength. The company now farms some 4,500 acres.

Among the crops is winter rye which is supplied to Irish Distillers. It is the only crop being grown in the country for this purpose. Their spring and winter barley is also grown for the brewing and distilling industry. Winter oats is grown for export to the cereal bar trade and beans are grown for rolling to be used in local feed trade.

Philip and his partner Martina McGrath have two young children, Aideen (7) and Eve (4). Philip regularly contributes to various farming publications, including the Farmers Weekly and Farm Machinery Journal.

Name: Andrew Workman

Age:  61

Location: Togher, Drogheda, Co Louth

Area farmed: 250 acres

Type of farming: Tillage (spring wheat, winter wheat, spelt, winter rye, spring rye, spring oats, red clover, white clover) and horses

A fourth-generation farmer, Andrew is one cog in the wheel of a very successful family business that also includes his wife, Leonie, and eldest son, Matthew (33). Alex (31) works in IT.

Having switched to organic farming over 10 years ago, Andrew says that their business is thriving. Operating under the name Dunany Farm, it is the only enterprise currently selling flour that is grown, dried, milled and packaged at home. Dunany Flour is now sold countrywide. The Workmans also grow spelt and a large quantity of berries from this crop is sold directly to salad-making companies, while their oats are sold to Flavahans.

In addition to a busy tillage farm, the Workmans also own a thriving equestrian centre run by their manager Michael Tuite.

Name: Tim, Jackie and Mark Ronaldson

Location: Stonebrook, Ballymore Eustace, Naas, Co Kildare

Area farmed: 300 acres

Type of farming: All tillage (beans, barley, oats and wheat)                      

Tim Ronaldson, along with his son, Mark (25), runs a busy tillage farm, while equally thriving alongside it is Stonebrook Pet Farm, run by Tim’s wife Jackie.

With 200 acres of their own for tillage, they also rent extensively, as well as contract farm a further 350 acres in the locality. They introduced beans into the cropping two years ago and the premium has been very attractive.

Adjacent to the Wicklow Mountains, they are in a very good area for straw/hay and silage sales and service a number of farmers and studs in the area. Tim and Jackie’s eldest son, Craig (27), is a rugby player with Connaught, while Hugh (20) is studying sports science and physiology at Athlone IT and Vicky is in first year in Kilkenny College.

Mark is a graduate in machinery and crop management.

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