Ballina man Sean O’Donnell scooped one of the most prized accolades in the farming sector in Ireland on Tuesday night.
The dairy farmer from Behybeg, Ballina, was named the FBD Young Farmer of the Year at an awards ceremony in Bantry, Cork.
He beat off stiff competition from more than 200 other farmers around the country to make it all the way through to the final six in the land, following a rigorous judging process which included a visit to his farm situated between Bonniconlon and Ballina.
Mr O'Donnell told the Mayo Advertiser that he could not believe it when his name was called out as the overall winner, following an indepth interview in front of the judging panel of agricultural experts.
"I didn't expect it at all but I'm absolutely delighted," he said.
He travelled to Cork for the awards with his wife, Jackie, and he said the whole family were “very proud” of the achievement.
Mr O’Donnell, a keen footballer with Bonniconlon GAA Club, only began farming full-time six years ago, which makes his win all the more impressive.
He had been working in the construction sector up until 2008 before deciding to swap his hard hat for wellies and go back to his roots.
“My dad was a farmer and it was something I always wanted to go back to,” he said.
Although his oldest son is just six, he said he wouldn’t mind seeing his children follow in his footsteps into the family business.
“We’ll have to wait and see if it is something they are interested in but, in an ideal world, it would be nice to see,” he added.
Since 2008, Mr O’Donnell has grown the dairy farm from 40 milking cows to 110.
He also has big plans for future expansion and has introduced a number of innovative farming practices, including a collaborative farming arrangement for raising heifers.
The FBD Young Farmer of the Year competition, which is now in its 16th year, is run by Macra na Feirme in partnership with the Irish Farmers’ Association.
Farmers are judged by a panel of agricultural experts under categories such as business initiative, efficiency, farm safety, environmental protection awareness, and community involvement.