The Focus Farm Programme, launched in September past, has already captivated farmer interest throughout Northern Ireland. Visitors will have a choice of some fifty-five Focus Farms, covering ten farm enterprise sectors: Dairy, Beef, Sheep, Pigs, Arable, Organic, Commercial Horticulture, Renewable Energy Crops, Diversification and Environmental. At start of January 2010, 50 of the 55 Focus Farms have completed all training. Bio-security, Health & Safety and facility augmentation requirements and are now available to host visits.
Over 1,000 visitors already.
To date, 35 Focus Farms have already hosted visits, with over 1,000 visitors in the first three months of the Focus Farm Programme. Over the next couple of months, the remaining Focus Farms will become operative and it is envisaged that the Programme will continue for at least the next 2-3 years.
The Focus Farm Programme is part of the broader Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme and is part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).
The Focus Farm Programme will be co-ordinated by the Focus Farm Centre (based at AI Services (NI) Ltd, Ballycraigy Headquarters) on behalf of the Countryside Agri-Rural Partnership, which is also responsible for the delivery of other Rural Development Measures (Farm Modernisation; Farm Family Options; Supply Chain Management; Benchmarking).
Training for farmers - delivered by farmers
Focus Farms is a unique programme of farmer-led training - providing demonstrations of good production, environmental, market awareness and business management practice. Focus Farms will provide farmer visitors with an opportunity for on-farm visits, discussion and follow-up one-to-one mentoring options - forums for sharing experience and developing ideas.
Each Focus Farm will make available relevant physical and financial performance benchmarking information for discussion.
"Focus Farms can help visiting farmers rationalise the many farming challenges and threats, but also share how they seek commercial farm solutions and look to exploit new opportunity", explains Dr Sam Campbell, from theFocus Farm Centre.
"Focus Farms can help our industry meet new challenges and exploit new technology and innovation. Our entire Industry must become more 'market-facing' and of the 'value added ' mindset if farmers are to get a fairer share of the food chain retail price.
"I have been most impressed by how forward-thinking and committed Focus Farmers are to future-proofing their enterprise 'bottom-line economic sustainability'. The Focus Farm Programme can also encourage greater co-operation and collaboration within the N.I. farming community, not least by providing increased opportunity for networking and training transfer."
Focus on good environmental practice
While all 55 Focus Farms demonstrate good practice in terms of production, welfare, business and environment management, 17 Focus Farmers have been specifically selected to focus on "good environmental practice". These "environmental Focus Farms" cover a range of enterprise sectors to include arable, beef, sheep, dairy and diversification. Good environmental management practice and responsible stewardship of the land can certainly contribute to the overall commercial farm business and promotion of sustainable agricultural practice.
From February, the Focus Farm Programme will also commence delivery of Agri-Environment training courses to comprise Cross-Compliance, Field Boundary Management and Farm Waste Management elements, as developed on behalf of DARD by the College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).
Share the Focus Farm experience
Could you adapt some of the practices you will see on a Focus Farm - to the betterment of your own farm? Could you share ideas - on adding value to your farm outputs? - on reducing costs? - on saving labour or time on your farm? - on improving your income? Could you share first hand commercial farm experience of new technology; new problem solutions; new skills; new opportunities? The Focus Farm Programme provides a unique opportunity to share real farm experience.
Focus Farms are open to all farmers and members of farm families or employees (aged 16 or over) who have a Farm Business Identification Number (Business ID). Whether a full time or part time farmer, or as a group, you will find visits arranged to meet your needs. Don't miss the opportunity - free of charge!
For information enquiries, or to receive a Focus Farm location map and list of the 55 Focus Farms, or to book a visit, please contact the Focus Farm Centre at 0845 026 7536, or through the website at www.focusfarms.co.uk