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Business Development Groups go digital

December 16, 2020

The current pandemic has made every aspect of life challenging over the last 8 months. For the College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) Business Development Group members and their group facilitators, it has forced us to rethink how we can continue to communicate as a group.  Stringent guidelines were implemented earlier in the year to allow Business Development Groups to continue to meet on farms, but the recent tightening of restrictions have made online meetings a necessity.

Co. Fermanagh’s Sheep Business Development Group (BDG) recently met online with CAFRE Technology Demonstration Farmer John Martin, Greyabbey, Co. Down to discuss grassland management. Ruth Moore, CAFRE’s Beef and Sheep Adviser arranged an online meeting where 22 BDG members joined John Martin to discuss the management of his 700 Highland & Belclare ewes on his 50ha farm.

John Martin, Greyabbey Co. Down who is currently recruited as technology demonstration sheep farmer to demonstrate selected essential technologies for grassland management.

John Martin aims to maximise lamb output from quality grass, using a range of technology adoptions to produce 510kg lamb carcass per hectare.  This impressive figure is achieved through rigorous record keeping to aid decision making within the enterprise.  Weekly grass measuring, regular weighing and body condition scoring of stock coupled with careful soil nutrient management were just some of the topics discussed during the meeting.

Allowing all members to attend the online meeting is important and therefore members could join through home broadband, a mobile device or just by calling in on the phone. Feedback from the meeting was very positive with one member commenting that, “it was good to focus the mind as listening to what other farmers are achieving can encourage change within my own business”.  A farm visit is still the preferred way of meeting and exchanging ideas but at the moment online engagement is having a positive effect. John Martin concluded the meeting by kindly extending an invitation to his farm and we are looking forward to meeting as a group again in the future.

Digital-led meetings have become the new normal for many businesses and has been enthusiastically embraced by BDG members. Whilst we are looking forward to meeting on farm again, encouraging the agricultural community to continue to embrace digital literacy is important.  There is no limit to the possibilities of what can be achieved, connecting the farming community to share expertise, new technologies and peer to peer learning through online presentations and discussion.

Details of the Technology Demonstration Farms, and how to book a visit are available here. At the moment CAFRE is taking group bookings only by emailing: The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the European Union are funding the establishment of this network of Technology Demonstration Farms across Northern Ireland as part of the Rural Development Programme under the Innovation Technology Evaluation Demonstration (ITED) Scheme.