A Fermanagh farmer has been elected President Elect of the Ulster Grassland Society.

John Egerton, a prominent suckler, beef and sheep farmer from Rosslea who is well known in farming circles, was elected to the position at the Society's annual meeting which coincided with their annual conference in the Dunadry Hotel, Templepatrick.

The Annual General Meeting took place before the conference with a successful year highlighted by outgoing UGS President, Harold Johnston and Secretary, George Reid particularly the welcome return to physical events and the success of UGS representatives John and Claire Beckett in the BGS Grassland Farmer of the Year competition. Harold Johnston was congratulated and thanked for his great leadership during the year. He then handed over the President’s Chain of office to income President David Linton. David is from Kilrea and well known as Agriculture Commercial Manager at Barenbrug UK.

The results of the election of Office-bearers were as follows:

President - David Linton, Kilrea

President Elect - John Egerton, Rosslea

Vice Presidents - Harold Johnston and Charlie Kilpatrick

Secretary - George Reid

Treasurer - Neville Graham

PRO - John Henning

Committee - Gary Thompson; Trevor Somerville; Robert Patterson and Christopher Breadon

The Annual Conference addressed the topical theme “Economic and Sustainable Farming” with well over 120 delegates assembling.

The UGS Executive Committee had assembled an impressive line up of speakers and this clearly captured the interest of members and grassland enthusiasts from across Northern Ireland and further afield.

The opening Conference address was given by Dr Elizabeth Stockdale from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany on the subject ‘Mud matters - Managing healthy soils on farm’ stressing the importance of knowing your soil from a biological, chemical and physical perspective. According to Elizabeth, who is the current Britain Grassland Society President, this is vital for farmers and advisors and she challenged the UGS 'to take along a spade, or several spades, to future farm visits' in order to 'record, compare and discuss' soils and soil structure.

The next speaker was Andy Doyle, formerly Tillage Editor of the Irish farmers Journal and current Chairman of Tillage Industry Ireland, who highlighted that 'soil is key to farming performance’ with ’soils damaged by management and natural events’. He stressed the importance of preventing damage to soil structure and suggested that in the arable sector management of soil biology had been poor. It was interesting that both speakers reinforced each others messages and highlighted how simple improving soils could be.

Delegates were also addressed by Marc Jones who runs a 500 acre beef and sheep farmer at Trefnant Farm, Welshpool in Wales where he runs 700 Romney ewes alongside 350 mainly Aberdeen Angus dairy bred heifers which are taken through to beef after being finished off grass. A key focus on this farm has been building resilience to cope with variations in the weather particularly around grassland management and the use of herbal lays / multi species swards. Marc was the winner of the British Grassland Society’s Grassland Farmer of the Year competition in 2021.

The final speaker at the Conference was Jim Baird from Lanarkshire in Scotland where he milks 240 cows on a forage-based Autumn block-calving system who gave an overview of his farm business from an economic and sustainability perspective. Jim recently hosted a BGS farm walk and outlined some of the key aspects of his herd management to Conference delegates. In 2010 Jim completed a Nuffield Farming Scholarship looking at attributes of enterprising rural businesses and he discussed this and his involvement in dairy industry politics during his informative presentation.

All of the speakers then joined a panel discussion led by newly elected UGS President David Linton with a great range of interesting questions from the audience.

The Conference was then closed by a vote of thanks from Society President Elect, John Egerton who thanked all those involved in organising the conference and the speakers for their contribution to a very successful day.

In the competitions, the Grassland Farmer of the Year competition Overall Award went to The Mitchell family from Banbridge who were commended by the judges for their ‘attention to detail’, ‘improvements achieved in milk from forage’ and ‘overall management and sustainability’.