Skip to main content

CAFRE College Advisory Group (CAG)

The College Advisory Group (CAG) is an Expert Committee responsible for providing advice at a strategic and operational level to the management team of College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) on the delivery of CAFRE programmes for the Northern Ireland Agri-food industry.

The group was established in January 2007 and reports to the College Director, Martin McKendry. 

The Group comprises a Chair, and 12 members.  Each member has been appointed to represent various sectors relevant to the role and work of CAFRE. The appointment information can be found here.

The Chair of the Group is Maynard Mawhinney.

From left to right: Diane Ruddock (Environment), Nicholas Cowan (Environment in the Supply Chain), Maynard Mawhinney (CAG Chairperson), Ivor Ferguson (Intensive Livestock-Pigs), Elaine Willis Food Processing, David Brown (Extensive Livestock – Red Meat), Barclay Bell (Arable Crops), Malcolm Emery (International Relations), Roy Lyttle (Production Horticulture) , Esther Skelly-Smith (Equine).
Not pictured: Mark Gowdy (Agri-Food Business Development), Harold Johnston (Intensive Livestock Dairy), and Deborah O’ Hare (Education).
College Advisory Group Members

Maynard Mawhinney was appointed Chair of the Group in 2021 and is an experienced Board Member with a demonstrated history of working in the Agri-Food industry.  Maynard is agri-food advisor to BDO and an independent food consultant as well as the current Chair of the Finance and Performance Committee of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust. He was Director of Food, Drink and Commercial Tourism at InvestNI from 2003 – 2013, working with strategic partners to develop Agri-Food strategies.  Maynard has also served as a Board Member to the Health & Safety Executive (NI), an Independent Interview Board Assessor for the Commissioner for Public Appointments NI, a Business Coach through Mentoring Concave and a member of the CAFRE College Advisory Group representing the Food Processing sector.


Mark Gowdy has over 30 years’ experience within the Food Industry and is currently the Sales and Marketing Manager at White’s Speedicook Ltd. (Fane Valley Group).  Prior to joining White’s he held a number of positions within the bakery sector including Sales Director for Jacob’s Biscuits (Groupe Danone: Ireland).  He has previously served as a board member for the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland and is the current treasurer of the Northern Ireland fund raising committee for the UK charity, GroceryAid. 


Barclay Bell has considerable experience in the Agriculture Industry, farming an 8th generation farm at Rathfriland, County Down, with the enterprises including cereals, sheep, and beef cattle. Diversification has also played a role on the farm with a cut flower enterprise and wind turbine. Mr Bell is an experienced Board member, a Past President of the UFU (2016-2018), current member of the UFU Seeds and Cereal Committee, Chair of the NFU Regional Board and a Trustee of the Air Ambulance NI. He is also Vice-Chair of the Ulster Arable Society and Chair of the Arable sub-group of the Greenhouse Gas Implementation Partnership as well as a member of an Arable and Environmental Business Development Group.


Deborah O Hare has been Principal of The Wallace High School, Lisburn since 2009. Previously she was Principal of Portadown College and has held a range of leadership positions in Antrim Grammar School, Methodist College and Banbridge Academy. She has a BA honours degree in French, a Post Graduate Certificate in Education, a Master’s degree in Educational Management and a Professional Qualification in Headship (PQHNI). Deborah is a former President of the Association of Schools and College Leaders, Northern Ireland (ASCLNI); a former member of the Education Committee of the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), and is a regular contributor to consultations on a range of education, mental health and financial policy across primary, post-primary, FE and HE sectors. She is a current Board Member of the South Eastern Regional College (SERC) where she is Deputy Chair of The Education Committee and a member of The Audit and Risk Committee.


Diane Ruddock is the External Affairs Manager for the National Trust in Northern Ireland and has been an employee of the conservation charity since 1986.  She currently represents the Trust on a number of bodies including the DAERA Rural Development Programme Monitoring Committee and the Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership Advisory Committee.  She is also a Board member of Northern Ireland Environmental Link.  


Nicholas Cowan is an experienced operations manager working within the land based and agri-food industries in both the private and public sectors, throughout the UK.  Nicholas is currently the Group Environmental Manager for Tayto Group Ltd and has previously held positions in Northern Ireland Water and the Monymusk Land Company Ltd, Aberdeen.  He holds a degree in Rural Business Management from the University of Aberdeen/Scottish Agricultural College. 


Dr Esther Skelly-Smith is a practicing Equine Veterinary Surgeon and is the practice principal of Shanaghan Veterinary Services.  Previously she worked within the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, the Gleno Veterinary Centre and the Equine Dental Clinic in Hillsborough.  Esther is a partner in her family farm and has successfully led the diversification of the farm into sport horse breeding.  She has competed at national level in a range of equine disciplines including dressage and side saddle.  She is also the Honorary Secretary and equine advisor to the North of Ireland Veterinary Association and the Association of Veterinary Surgeons practicing in Northern Ireland.  


David Brown is a beef and sheep farmer from Florencecourt, County Fermanagh. David is a Trustee of the Vaughan Trust supporting agricultural and educational projects in Fermanagh and a Committee Member of the Fermanagh Grassland Club and has served as chairman. David has represented the South West group on the Ulster Framer’s Union beef and lamb committee and he was elected as deputy president of the Ulster Framer’s Union in 2018.


Malcolm Emery has 25 years’ experience in business both as an owner and as a manager and has extensive experience at a senior level in the retail and commercial sectors.  He previously held positions of CEO of NI Seafood and Rural Support, Development Director of Utility wise and Business Development Director of Carillion Energy Services.  Malcolm graduated from Greenmount College in 1984 and holds an MSc in Agri-food Business Development from the Ulster University.  Throughout his career he has developed a range of industry contacts across the world including Australia, Hong Kong, India and France. 


Harold Johnston has over 35 years’ experience of the Dairy farming sector and has had success in several competitions, most notably First place in the 2020 Ulster Grassland Society “Grassland Farmer of the year” competition. Harold has a long career of service to the farming community, having been a Board member of Dale Farm Co-Op since 2011, a position which has given him insight into the processor side of the industry.  He is also currently President-Elect of the Ulster Grassland Society, a member of South Antrim Dairy Group and was County Antrim chairman of the Ulster Farmers Union in 2005.


Ivor Ferguson graduated from Harper Adams Agricultural College and farms at Markethill where he manages a 300 sow birth to bacon pig unit and also sheep and arable enterprises.  In 2018 Ivor was elected as the President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. He was Chair of the UFU Pork and Bacon policy committee and represented the Union at the Pork and Bacon Forum. He is a Past-President of Armagh Lions Club and is actively involved in motorsport as a Rally Co-Driver.


Roy Lyttle owns and manages his farm near Newtownards where he grows, processes and packs a range of vegetables crops for supply to the retail multiples and also to local independents.  Roy is a member of the Agricultural Wages Board, has been a past chair of the UFU Vegetable Committee and is a member of the Northern Ireland Horticulture Forum.  He is also the Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors for Regent House Grammar School and Chairman of Loughries Integrated Primary School Board of Governors.  In 2016 he won the Wildlife Friendly Farmer of the year award at the prestigious Farming Life/Danske Bank awards. 


Elaine Willis has over 25 years of experience in the Agri-Food Processing Industry and is currently the Retail Operations Director in the Linden Food Ltd (2016-present), part of the ABP Food Group, which supplies red meat products to major retailers and Food Service businesses. She has responsibility for the management of two food processing sites at Linden Retail, Dungannon and Kettyle Irish Foods, Lisnaskea; with a total of 350 employees. Her responsibilities encompass everything from sales and marketing strategy for key retail customers to Operations, Technical, Health and Safety, Planning, Supply Chain and Purchasing, New Product Development and Innovation, People Management, Training and Development, as well as Sustainability Strategy implementation. She has a BSc Hons Degree in Food Science and Technology from Loughry College and was previously the Head of Innovation and Business Development at Linden Food Group (2007-2016).