Women in Agriculture profile with Lynsay Hawkes

Occupation: I am a communications assistant at the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and coordinator of the Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend (BOIOFW) schools.

Agricultural product : I live on a fifth generation dairy farm, which houses 250 Holstein, Jersey and Shorthorn cattle and a dairy herd of 135 people.

Working full-time and having just completed my master’s degree in commerce, agri-food and rural enterprise with communication at CAFRE, I still like to get involved on the family farm and lend a hand. Whether it’s showing cattle at local agricultural fairs, filling a gap when moving cattle, checking young stock or covering the silo pit – there’s always work to do!

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Growing up on our family farm and my parents being heavily involved in many farm organizations, there were always plenty of chores to do, such as feeding calves and pet lambs, bedding and providing off-farm assistance on the exhibition circuit.

I joined the Seskinore Young Farmers Club 15 years ago. Having held many leadership positions and participated in various competitions such as stock judging, public speaking, one-act drama, flower arranging, rugby and group debates, the competitions have greatly improved my life skills. Thanks to YFCU, I was lucky enough to be part of the Miss Macra International Festival and Queen of the Land, where I made many contacts across the UK and Ireland that helped me in my career today.

Sitting on my mom’s lap in the milking parlor wanting to be in on all the action. I had the daunting task of opening the door to let the cows out of the milking parlor and, when I was older, spraying the cows’ teats and milking “my own” cow “304”. Growing up I wanted to help my family on the farm, help Granda when it came to feeding the calves and learn all the tricks of the trade, hoping to earn a few bobs or two along the way – two pound pieces stand out to bother!

What personal characteristics have you developed from farming?

To be resilient, have a good work ethic, communication skills (especially important when moving livestock), patience and problem solving.

Life lesson you learned from farming:

With good days, there will unfortunately also be bad ones, but everything can be fixed. As the saying goes, “everyday is a school day!” The farming community is very creative and adaptable, when a job needs to be done or there is a breakdown they will always find a solution. Hard work and fun can happen at the same time. It’s important to have a work-life balance and to take a break by putting yourself first.

What do you enjoy most about the farming lifestyle?

The farming community and seeing first hand their passion, care and determination to do everything to the best of their abilities. Whether you’re walking through the countryside, checking the cattle, bringing the cows in for milking, or attending the local market or agricultural fair, your neighbors will stop for a thread, lend a hand. if necessary or will give you advice! This was evident in the past two years as the farming community huddled around each other, providing hot meals to the vulnerable, lifting prescriptions or making a phone call to check on a neighbor.

With agriculture, no two days are alike! Besides the challenges, there are many opportunities that we must seize with both hands. Agriculture is constantly evolving with solutions to climate change, technological advances and new legislation.

Describe a farmer in three words: Resilient, passionate and optimistic.

What would you like the public to know about NI agriculture?

Farming is not a 9-5 job, for many it is a way of life. Over the years, the link between farmers and consumers has broken down. It is essential that children and the public have every opportunity to learn about local food production in NI. From its agricultural origins and production process to the importance of our unique family farming structure. Farmers produce high quality food, help shape our iconic green landscape in NI, and create different environments that support our economy by providing jobs, supporting rural communities, tourism, and recreation. Farmers have a fantastic story to tell, and they should be proud of it.

At NI, we have great initiatives and resources showcasing the positive work of our farmers and the “farm to fork” story. From BOIOFW and the schools competition, UFU and Agri Aware’s ‘Dig in!’ resource and the Livestock and Meat Commission’s in school cooking demonstrations.

If you could give one piece of advice to farmers/farming families/farming community, what would it be?

Communication and adaptability are key. It’s important for the farming community to talk to and support each other, and never forget that you are not alone. Whether it’s teaching each other tips and tricks at UFU, YFCU and business development group meetings or talking to a neighbor or family member, those few minutes of conversation could lighten someone else’s load or turn a half-hour’s job into 10 minutes. At NI, we are very fortunate to have a local charity, Rural Support, which provides a confidential listening and mentoring service to farmers and their families.

What would you say to others considering a career in the agricultural industry?

Seize every opportunity! The agribusiness industry offers a wealth of career opportunities, ranging from home-farmer to food technology, horticulture, veterinarian, nutrition and more. Having a good balance of hands-on experience is extremely helpful, and remember it’s never too late to start learning. At NI, we are extremely fortunate to have a variety of part-time courses available for those who want to upgrade or continue learning while working, such as CAFRE, Farm Family Key Skills Training Division courses, and UFU.

What are your hopes for the future of the farming industry in Northern Ireland?

Women have always played a key role in agricultural enterprises and in industry at large – often behind the scenes. There is no doubt that the agribusiness industry has changed, with women’s expertise being increasingly recognized and many women in leadership positions – hopefully this will continue in the future.

Our family farms need to be recognized, rewarded and supported for their efforts to produce quality products that consumers can trust. In turn, farmers must receive fair prices, with the cost of living and input prices rising alongside the ongoing war in Ukraine. I hope that our unique family farm structure in NI will continue to be sustainable and profitable in the future, so that the next generation can thrive and continue to feed the nation with our locally grown, locally grown produce.

About Keneth T. Graves

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