Irish student John Halton flew the flag for Ireland in London recently as he attended the Farmers Weekly Awards ceremony, having been nominated for Ag Student of the Year.
John grew up on a dairy farm near Rathmolyon, Co Meath.
The family farm has over 200ac of farmland and a herd of 150 Holsteins. John is the third generation on the farm.
Agriculture has always been his passion, growing up he had worked a lot on the farm at home, but he took a particular interest in agricultural science and knew exactly what he wanted to do when college came around.
Flying the coop
Considering his options abroad in the UK, John attended an open day at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, England, close to the Welsh border, and it was quite clear from that day that he had found the right fit.
“I’d been chatting to a few lads who had studied there and got their opinion on it, so I thought I’d head over for an open day,” he says.
On his return, he signed himself up for a Foundation Degree in Agriculture which is the equivalent to an Irish level 7 degree.
Aside from the appeal of the college, the course structure was also a huge draw for John as it was a sandwich course with a year of work experience in between.
“You take a year out in the middle to go on placement. I did that with Dale Farming Limited.
It was their dairy system that appealed to me
They are a contract farming company with seven farms across the UK, all dairy farms,” he says.
“Their main base is in Cheshire, but they have farms from the northwest of Scotland right down to the Shropshire. I was based on one of their Staffordshire farms at a little town called Eccleshall.
“It was their dairy system that appealed to me – this was a 400-cow block calving herd which was a bit different to what I’ve been used to in Ireland,” he adds.
He says he found the calving “fairly hectic”.
John has dyslexia which he found a challenge at school but feels he overcame it in college and coped very well.
“I don’t see dyslexia as a problem, I see it more as a good thing because it gives me determination to succeed,” he says.
John has finished his degree now but is yet to graduate as the ceremony has been postponed until July 2022 – so he has a little while yet to wait for the handshake and scroll.
But his career was given a boost lately with the accolade of being a finalist for the Farmers Weekly Ag Student of the Year. While John did not come away that night with the, he certainly enjoyed the plush ceremony in a room full of inspiring peers.
It was in the Grosvenor House Hotel, which is very posh. It’s a hotel that I shouldn’t be in, it’s a place that I’m not used to
“I went over to London for the awards night and sadly I didn’t get it, but it was really good to get in the final three. It was just mad to look around at all the seats and think I made it here,” he says.
“It was in the Grosvenor House Hotel, which is very posh. It’s a hotel that I shouldn’t be in, it’s a place that I’m not used to,” he adds jokingly.
Modern farming and social media
A few points that stood out in John’s awards application were his use of social media and his efforts to change agricultural policy.
He is a political party member and has set designs on “forming an agricultural committee to focus on agricultural laws and motions that will be presented to parliament. This will ensure that the Irish farmer has a voice in the future.” Something that could only have made his application shine.
TikTok has been another huge benefit to John’s notoriety in the agricultural circles.
It took him by surprise that he could attract an outside audience to learning about agriculture on the social media app
What was born out of boredom at the beginning of COVID-19 has turned into 16,000 followers all following John’s journey through his working life in agriculture, including views and opinions from his peers.
It took him by surprise that he could attract an outside audience to learning about agriculture on the social media app but it’s become part of his day to day life.
Farming back home
Since finishing college John has returned to Ireland and has scored a job as herd manager on a 350-cow dairy herd farm in Co Meath. He is also putting that Harper Adams education to good use as he can see the benefits from some of the modules and projects he studied.
John did his final-year project on organic breed choice for a dairy farm, this allowed him to further his “research with the potential to develop a career in the dairy breeding industry in addition to developing further knowledge for the home farm.”
I found that extremely interesting, something totally different to anything farm related but an essential skill to learn
One of the other modules which stood out in particular to John was managing people.
“I found that extremely interesting, something totally different to anything farm related but an essential skill to learn. Especially being in the role that I’m in and learning how to speak to people the right way,” he says.
At some point John would like to further explore farming in continental Europe to further broaden his horizons, a few past visits have whetted his appetite but for now you can find him TikTok-ing his ag days in Co Meath.