Farmers Weekly Awards 2019: Livestock Adviser of the Year

Trevor Alcorn is the 2019 Farmers Weekly Awards Livestock Adviser of the Year.

Dairy development adviser Trevor is a key asset for 80 family farms in Northern Ireland – helping them to optimise their returns, with a strong focus on meeting the personal goals of each producer while improving their business performance.

Much of Trevor’s work has been on a one-to-one basis with family farmers across counties Tyrone and Fermanagh. But he spends more time working with his clients in groups, benchmarking their businesses and facilitating knowledge exchange through discussion groups.

See also: Meet the 2019 Farmers Weekly Awards Livestock Adviser of the Year finalists

Trevor Alcorn in a dairy shed

Trevor Alcorn © Steffan Hill

Trevor Alcorn

College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise – Knowledge Advisory Service, County Tyrone

Business facts

  • 80 farmers working together in four groups
  • Knowledge exchange and benchmarking of farms
  • Building design and farm development plans
  • Nutrient management planning and advice
  • Succession planning and local social events

Group size ranges from 15-25 farmers. They meet a minimum of eight times a year to improve their grazing management, silage production, weed control, herd health and fertility and nutrition – as well as benchmarking their physical and financial performance.

Sharing knowledge
Born and bred on a dairy farm himself, Trevor delivers impartial advice and has an in-depth understanding of what makes each of his clients tick – whether they are new entrants into the industry or family farmers with years of experience.

Successes include helping farmers reduce their use of antibiotics by switching to selective dry cow therapy (SDCT) and the use of teat sealants – with 14 out of 18 producers in one group switching to SDCT within an 18-month period.

Strabane dairy farmer Albert O’Neill, who farms at Artigarvan, boosted his milk from forage by 600 litres a cow – equivalent to £67 an animal – by improving his grassland strategy using a plate meter to measure grass growth, pre-mowing and developing his own seed mixes.

“I value his non-biased opinion, says Albert. “Trevor is the only person who comes through the farm gate who isn’t trying to sell me something. He mixes common sense with practical experience, so I am always happy to listen to what he says.”

Trevor has been key in encouraging local farmers to benchmark their businesses. At first this took the form of sharing information anonymously so they could compare the performance of their own enterprise against similar farm businesses.

Business improvement
Some producers were sceptical at first. But all have since recognised the benefits it has brought their businesses – so much so that members of one group now share key performance data openly with one another, and critique each other’s farm management decisions.

“There is always something you can improve – and benchmarking can identify it,” says dairy farmer Hall Donnell, who farms at Ballymagorry. “Trevor gives honest advice and reassurance – and he knows what works because of his background, which is an important bonus.”

But it is people, not just cows, that are among Trevor’s key interests. Acknowledging that he is only one person in a much wider team of advisers, he says his biggest achievement was being awarded a 2015 Nuffield scholarship to investigate the prospects for family dairy farming.

“In a nutshell, my conclusion was that there is a future for some family dairy farms,” he says. “But they must communicate, collaborate and innovate to help ensure their survival. That is exactly what we are trying to encourage.”

Winning ways

  • Possesses deep understanding of farming systems
  • Cares about client farms as if they are his own
  • Promotes benchmarking to improve performance
  • Successfully encourages openness among farmers
  • Focuses on what is best for farmer, not just farm

A word from our independent judge

“Trevor is everything a good adviser should be. He has knowledge and experience, impressive attention to detail and goes the extra mile to ensure the farmers he advises achieve their goals.”

John Royle, NFU chief livestock adviser

The 2019 Farmers Weekly Livestock of the Adviser of the Year category is sponsored by Kubota

The finalists were:

  • Emily Gascoigne Synergy Farm Health, Dorset
  • Charles Mayson CXCS, Herefordshire

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