A local producer for Marks & Spencer has been rewarded for his excellence in innovation at a M&S ‘Farming for the Future’ Award presentation, which took place at the Balmoral Show.
Tom Forgrave from Ballymoney scooped the Innovation Award which recognises producers who are pushing the boundaries in their sector. Tom is responsible for all business and financial decisions for the family’s high welfare broiler chicken farm. With 160,000 bird places, the family has expanded the business, alongside cereal growing and Christmas tree production.
His methodical approach to farming has enabled the business to grow in a profitable and sustainable manner, and the farm is currently in the top 15% of poultry producers in Northern Ireland based on profitability.
One of the key drivers for this improvement in profitability has been a focus on making full use of renewable technologies such as biomass heating and a 150kW wind turbine. Tom was one of the first producers in Northern Ireland to adopt biomass heating across the farm, which has enabled him to finish birds a full day sooner than previously, with reduced feed use and less environmental impact.
Tom said: “All the heat for the chicken houses is provided by biomass boilers and the wind turbine provides enough electricity for all the farm’s requirements, with a small amount of excess energy being exported to the grid. The farm’s biomass heating system also ensures that all our sheds are kept at an optimum temperature and provide a stable, dry environment for the birds. What this means is that the farm is carbon negative, which I believe is unique. What’s more, all our chicken litter is now sold to an anaerobic digester less than 1 mile from the farm, to produce green energy, ensuring that we are as environmentally sustainable as possible.”
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Tom isn’t stopping with innovation around energy efficiency either. Current plans will see him using automatic bird weighers in each poultry shed, which will be connected to a PC to provide real time data, ensuring he can monitor bird performance easily. He is also involved in on-farm trials to reduce campylobacter.
Despite his farming commitments, Tom is actively involved within the farming community, having hosted various farm visits to share his experiences with fellow producers. For the last six years he has also acted as chairman of a local committee representing over 160 poultry producers and took over the role of chairman of the UFU’s Northern Ireland Poultry Committee in April 2015.
Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture and Fisheries at M&S said: “The Farming for the Future awards are now in their ninth year, acknowledging the dedication and commitment our farmers and growers are making towards Plan A and sharing best practice amongst the agricultural community across Ireland and the UK.
“Tom is a very worthy winner and has proved this by demonstrating his innovative thinking, commercial success and social responsibility in the way he manages and executes his business.
“Our judges were particularly impressed with Tom’s commitment to innovative practices on the farm and his focus on environmental sustainability and efficiency. His willingness to spend time away from the farm representing other producers is also commendable.
Tom received a £1,000 prize for the award and has been entered into an ‘Overall Farming for the Future Champion Award’ for 2016, to be presented later this year.