5 minutes with… Mixed Farmer of the Year Matthew Brownlee

It’s been a whirlwind few months for the Farmers Weekly Award winners – 15 extraordinary farmers, advisers, contractors and farmworkers who last year received one of farming’s highest accolades recognising their fantastic business achievements.

We catch up with Mixed Farmer of the Year, Matthew Brownlee from Armagh, to find out what he has been up to on farm since the awards ceremony in October.

See also: Find out what made Matthew our Mixed Farmer of the Year

What’s new with your business?

Farm facts

  • Manages about 141ha in partnership with family
  • Enterprises include beef, dairy, pig finishing and apples.
  • Studied agricultural technology at Queen’s University Belfast.

We are in the middle of adding a second Lely milking robot to double dairy cow numbers.

We have sold our suckler herd as in-calf cows.

We are very happy with how the diary business has started and with the performance of rearing beef calves from the dairy herd and taking them through to slaughter.

I believe we can achieve a greater output of kilograms of beef produced per acre by buying and rearing calves through to beef than we could with the suckler herd.

We plan to use as much sexed semen as possible to breed the dairy replacements required, and then use beef semen on the dairy cows to replace some of the beef calves that would have come from the suckler herd.

Matthew Brownlee in field with cattle

© Steffan Hill

What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?

It’s the gap between land availability and land requirement.

In Northern Ireland, rented land works on a yearly renting agreement known as “conacre” – which makes investing in improving land to get the greatest output from it difficult and means it’s a greater risk to expand your business as you have no guarantee as to how long it will be available to you.

To resolve this, we are trying to seek longer-term rental agreements, as well as ensuring soil requirement is at its optimum in the current land we are farming so we are achieving the maximum output from it.

What traits do you need to be a good farmer?

All good farmers require an excellent work ethic, resilience, an ability to see solutions to problems and a good eye for opportunities.

For example, making current practices more efficient or spotting and taking the chance to expand.

As farmers, we face many battles outside our control, from weather to Brexit, and the resilience and drive to keep going when things aren’t going to plan is vital.

What is your ultimate farming goal?

To have a profitable business that can support a good work-life balance that potential future children of mine will be able to carry on.

Quickfire questions 

Where have you put your Awards plaque?
It’s on display in our kitchen.

Finish the sentence. Agriculture is…
a sector with a bright future, so we should shout loudly about the great produce that it gives everyone.

If you were Daera secretary for the day and had the power to make one decision, what would it be?
Let farmers decide when they spread slurry.

The Farmers Weekly 2019 Farm Manager of the Year Award is sponsored by Manitou. Enter or nominate now at awards.fwi.co.uk