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Meet your farming neighbours: Thomas Marshall

Thomas Marshall and his brother run a mixed farm in Northern Ireland

Every farm has its own story. No two farms (or farmers) are exactly alike. Everyone got started in a different way, and every farm has a different combination of family and hired staff who make the decisions and keep things running. But, in general, even after you consider all of the details, farmers are more alike than different. Even farmers in other countries.

Thomas Marshall farms in Northern Ireland where, in the past, mixed farms were the most common types typically operated, with most farmers dabbling in a little bit of everything such as dairy cows, beef, pigs, sheep, poultry and crops.

Today, the format is somewhat different as farms have got bigger and concentrate on one or two enterprises within them. The livestock sector dominates in Northern Ireland, but there are areas where grains are grown on a larger scale. Thomas Marshall and his brother William are still working with a number of enterprises on the farm.

Where do you farm?

“We farm two miles north of Portglenone in County Antrim, one of the six counties in Northern Ireland. We are almost situated at the very centre of the country around 40 miles from the capital Belfast.”

Who do you farm with?

“I work in partnership with my brother William and employ some part-time help when we require it in the main harvesting periods.”

Thomas Marshall and his brother farm in Northern Ireland, 40 miles from Belfast.
photo: Thomas Marshall

How much land do you farm?

“We run about 270 acres of land of which 100 acres are taken as conacre. Basically, conacre is when we rent land off other farmers or landowners to include in our business. Renting land is usually done on an annual basis or with longer-term contractual arrangements with the landowner.”

What crops do you grow?

“It’s still a mixed farm here with dairy, beef and sheep. We also carry out some contracting work as well for other farmers.

“In terms of grain we grow around 70 acres of cereals including spring barley, winter barley and wheat. We also grow 20 acres of potatoes and another 45 acres of hay. The remaining acreage is used for grazing and silage, the latter of which we use as winter fodder for the livestock.”

How long have you been farming?

“Having been brought up on a farm, I guess I have been farming ever since I could walk which is over 40 years ago. Once farming is in your blood it never really leaves you. Having a childhood on a farm and being able to continue in farming life is very satisfying. Farming really is the school of life.”

What’s the farm implement you can’t live without?

“I have to say the most useful machine is our telescopic loader which saves us a lot of hard work and labour. It is the machine that is in use every single day and has a wide number of uses. Everything from loading bales of straw in the fields at grain harvest time to loading and unloading potato boxes as well. It is essentially very much part of the team here and is a machine that we would be lost without if it was broken down.

For Thomas Marshall, the telescopic loader is an essential piece of farm equipment.
photo: Thomas Marshall

“Also, I have to say the next most important tool on the farm is my mobile phone which I would be totally lost without. It’s a more modern tool but with all the developments in technology to make farming more efficient it really is like having or needing a third hand. Everything these days seems to be controlled via mobile phone.”

What’s your favourite farming season?

“For me, the best time of year is the spring time when we can get out into the fields to start drilling barley or planting potatoes. It is a nice time of year, the weather is hopefully favourable for planting and it’s really the start of our workload for the year.”

You could have done anything. Why did you decide to farm?

“I always have had this inbuilt desire to learn about growing things and that sense has stayed with me for over 40 years. It really is satisfying to have a good harvest at the end of the growing season. It is a culmination of all your hard work, expertise and patience throughout the year resulting in a good harvest.”

Tell me about a good decision you made on the farm.

“One of the best farming decisions we made was to construct a new potato shed at the farm. In the past the yard access was restricted and lorries coming to load up potatoes had poor access. So we decided to build a new one with better access and more flexibility. A really good decision indeed.”

Tell me about a decision you regret.

“I studied agriculture for only one year at agricultural college and I guess regret not staying on another two years. This would have given me the chance to complete a sandwich year which I could have spent on a large arable farm in England gaining more experience in the industry.”

What opportunities do you see ahead in the next five to 10 years?

“Hopefully, with Brexit, we in the UK make it out of the European Union and the food we produce will be sold at a realistic price.”

Thomas Marshall would prefer to see the United Kingdom leave the European Union, to avoid EU-imposed pesticide restrictions.
photo: Thomas Marshall

What challenges do you see ahead in the next five to 10 years?

“If we stay in the EU, I can see even more crazy restrictions on using perfectly safe pesticides imposed on farmers by officials in the EU who seem to want us to farm with both hands tied behind our back.”

What do you do for fun?

“Getting away from the farm for days out at machinery shows or sales is very relaxing for me. I try to attend the Royal Highland Show in Scotland every year if I can and if the farming calendar allows me to do so.”

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