UFU women in agriculture profile featuring Mary Hunter

Friday, 7 August, 2020

Place you call home: 

Gortree, Drumahoe – as the song says ‘Along the Faughan side’.

Occupation:

Former teacher, farmer’s wife and owner of agri-tourism business ‘Derry Farm Cottages’. Currently chairperson of UFU NW Derry, vice chairperson and UFU Board member for County Londonderry. UFU representative for SEUPB Board Steering Committee (2021-2027 programmes). Current chair of Derry & Strabane Council Rural Partnership (LAG).

Farming commodity: 

Arable - formerly also included dairying and beef.

Farming background:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

I was brought up on a dairy farm in Bready, Co. Tyrone. My father was a cattle dealer and my mother managed the dairy herd.  I was a member of City of Derry Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) and married the Club Leader David. I represented the YFCU at the European Rally which fostered an interest in wider farming networks.

Earliest farming memory:                                                                                                                                

Going to Balmoral Show and coming home with two rabbits.

What personal characteristics did you develop from agriculture? 

Growing up we were expected to be helpful and industrious both on the farm and at school. This instilled the importance of working well together with good routines and outcomes, time management, adaptability, resilience, and communication skills. Also, it fostered the importance of a work/life balance – fun family time and participation in local and church organisations.

For young people both urban and rural, the YFCU organisation does provide excellent opportunities for rural education, personal development, life skills, social life, friendships and fun.

Life lesson you learnt from farming? 

Cycles of life - peaks and troughs, as epitomised in Seamus Heaney’s line ‘If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.’

As with any business ‘knowledge is power’. Education and professional development are key drivers for progressive change in farming. Farmers must be adaptable and trained to embrace business skills, new methodologies and technology (STEM).

What do you enjoy most about the farming lifestyle? 

Seasonal changes throughout the farming year, meeting farming families and rural networks. Our three children enjoyed their work on the farm particularly working on the potato harvester with the men in the summer holidays. Lessons learnt for life!

Describe a farmer in three words:

Optimist, pessimist, realist.

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

24,500 NI family farms support the NI food and drinks processing sector to sales of five billion with jobs for 26,000 employees. In addition, NI agriculture supports many of the 34,000 construction jobs and additional jobs in engineering/service industries and public sector, raising the cumulative total to 100,000. Consequently, the role of NI agriculture is pivotal to our wider economy and should be supported. This message is hopefully beginning to resonate with the public due to the consequences of the pandemic with subsequent high unemployment, shortages of key equipment, loss of service industries, impact on tourism, retail etc.

As producers and growers, we produce excellent safe quality food to the highest standards for public good and for animal welfare. Farmers farm but consumers choose! If people do not actively seek to buy local produce it will not be there. Farming in the 21st century requires consumer support, business, scientific and technological knowledge and collective Government priority to be sustainable and profitable.

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

Farming is a huge family and community network in NI- no one should feel isolated in times of trouble. It is important everyone listens and sees what is happening with their ‘fellowman’ and neighbour and supports as and when necessary. Also, we are most fortunate to have the invaluable Rural Support Network here. The UFU and its myriad networks also provide extensive services and expertise available to all the membership.                                                                                     

What would you say to others who are considering a career in the agri industry?

Agribusiness is the number one private sector industry in NI and provides employment in many specialist areas. Aim for initial work experience if possible. As with all career choices, prior research is very important - what qualifications and experience are required, what are the many career options in agri industry. It does provide local and global opportunities so educate yourself to the highest standards and be prepared to be a team worker and lifelong learner.

What are your hopes for the future of Northern Ireland’s agriculture industry?

That primary producers in all commodity sectors are realistically paid and profitable for producing the highest-quality and safe food for public good. That future negotiations with Government departments concerning the new agricultural policy and future ‘Brexit’ negotiations, will have positive economic outcomes embracing unfettered trade and access to global markets. Also ensuring sustainability, innovation and economic growth through recognition by Government and the public of the solution and beneficial role that the agricultural sector provides to address climate change, being custodians of the environment as encompassed in the Green Growth strategy.

The removal of such terminology as ‘Farm Subsidies’ and replaced by terminology such as ‘Consumer Food Aid’ (CFA) or ‘Public Good Aid’ (PGA) if and where required. Only when this happens will consumers comprehend that cheap food for them currently comes at the price of unsustainable poor returns for farmers.  Also, that consumers and Government departments will address the threat of cheap food imports to local employment and our economy which do not meet UK standards, best practice and animal welfare requirements.

Finally, to have a viable, sustainable, profitable agricultural industry in NI which supports young farmers within the culture and strength of inter- generational family farms where rural communities will continue to grow and thrive.