It’s a Déise double
Waterford dairy farmer Gillian O’Sullivan scooped the overall prize and Rising Star award at the Zurich Farm Insurance/ Farmer of the Year awards, writes Storm Powell
THIRTY-FIVE-YEAROLD dairy farmer Gillian O’Sullivan from Dungarvan has won this year’s Farmer of the Year award. She was also presented with the coveted Rising Star award in this year’s Zurich Farm Insurance/ Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards, which recognises excellence and distinction in Irish farming each year.
Gillian farms 148 acres, milking 100 cows in Kilgubnet, with her husband Neil and 72-year-old father Michael Wall. They operate a low-cost grass system and milk OAD (once a day).
Gillian and Neil are both qualified vets who were working in Dublin when their lives changed suddenly following the sad death of Gillian’s brother in 2009. They decided to return home to help on the farm.
“Due to circumstances, we decided to milk once a day and we have continued this system ever since,” says Gillian. It offers an ideal work/life balance for Neil and herself, who now have three young children — Fionn (7), Hannah (5) and Tim (2).
Neil can now work two days off-farm and their roles on the farm are interchangeable. This ensures ample time for both of them with their young family.
This is their fifth year farming since the transfer of the land and they have focused on breeding cows suited to the OAD system. Gillian, who was nominated for the award by Neil, set up a pioneering discussion group (POAD11) in 2015 which still meets regularly and comprises 22 farmers from 12 counties.
The year 2018 has been a good one for Gillian. As well as winning this prestigious award, she was also chosen to host RTÉ’s Big Week on the Farm.
Of the award, Gillian says: “It means great recognition. Our farm has moved from a place of great sadness 10 years ago to a place of happiness and this win is being shared with joy by all the family.”
This year’s Dairy Farmer of the Year is Patrick Brennan who milks 204 cows near Ballingarry, Roscrea, Co Tipperary.
Patrick lives on the farm with his wife Helen. Their youngest son Padraig is studying a Dairy Business course in UCD and plans to join Patrick when he has qualified.
“Farming is a business now,” says Patrick. “It’s not just the farm work these days but you also need to keep on top of the book work.” Patrick is delighted to receive the award. “We try to do things well and this is a great acknowledgement,” he says.
John Bell from Castletown-Geoghegan near Mullingar is Sheep Farmer of the Year. John farms 600 breeding sheep on 120ac of grassland. He praises his local Teagasc advisor who nominated him for the award and also keeps him abreast of all developments in the sheep world. “I was absolutely chuffed and completely surprised to get the award,” says John.
The Tillage Farmer of the Year is John Cullen who lives with his wife Karen and five daughters in Ballymurn, near Enniscorthy. “I started farming when I was 16, I’m 37 years working on the farm.”
Today he farms a total of 1,100 acres, of which one-third is owned, one-third is leased and the remainder is share farming. “This award means a lot,” says John. “It makes all the late nights and early mornings worthwhile.”
A special Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Dan McSweeney, chairman of Bord Bia. Dan has retired as CEO of the Carbery group after 25 years at the helm. While there, he played a key role in transforming the company from a dairy business into an international cheese, nutrition and food ingredients business.
ICMSA president Pat McCormack and Dairy Farmer of the Year 2018 Patrick Brennan from Roscrea, Co Tipperary
Lifetime Achievement Winner 2018 Dan McSweeny and ICMSA president Pat McCormack
Tillage Farmer of the Year 2018 John Cullen, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford and Michael Hennessy, Head of Tillage Knowledge, Teagasc