Ronan Byrne, of the Friendly Farmer based near Athenry, won the ‘Rising Star of 2014’ prize at Farmer of the Year awards.

Ronan is an entrepreneurial specialist at The Innovation Academy, and will be working with The Academy’s adult cohort in Limerick next month.

Ronan’s farm was visited in April by awards judges Liam Myles and Ella McSweeney, presenter on RTE’s Ear to the Ground. He was one of three shortlisted candidates in the ‘Rising Star’ category which included fellow Galway farmer Kenneth Keavey of Green Earth Organics and Tomas Lyng, a young dairy farmer from co. Kilkenny.

“It means a huge amount for our small family farm enterprise to be recognised by the farming community. We farm just 35 acres with none of our fields being more than 2-3 acres in size. Therefore I tried to take a different approach and step outside the traditional boundaries a bit. If nothing else, I hope this can help get the message out to young farmers that it is not all about scale and the only barrier to a successful business on a small farm is our thinking”.

Just over 7 years ago, Ronan began the journey of taking his family’s farm from traditional a suckler herd to a more alternative pasture-reared poultry enterprise, supplying the local market direct. He now raises pasture chickens and eggs on a year round basis, and geese, turkeys and ducks seasonally. His produce is sold direct from the farm, online and at Moycullen and Galway Farmers markets, as well as to restaurants. While he has big plans to develop the business further, it will not be about constantly increasing in scale but instead exploring a variety of opportunities within existing resources.

This was the first year of the Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year awards which are a celebration of the very best in Irish farming and the winners represent the cream of the talent in the country’s premier indigenous industry.