Richard Halleron

Richard-HalleronAgricultural journalist Richard Halleron writes for the Farming Life, agendaNi and other publications.  Here, he tells agendaNi how he combines farming and journalism, recalls his career to date and shares his thoughts on the prospects for local farming.

Before journalism, what was your career path?
My earliest memory is that of feeding young calves with my father in County Mayo. So, although I went to school in Belfast, the allure of all things farming was always there – part of my DNA you could say. I attended the Christian Brothers in Belfast, after which I was accepted by Trinity College Dublin to study veterinary medicine.

Many young men find the transition between their teenage years and young adulthood hard to cope with. And so it was for me. Two years later, I found myself back at home, wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  I was then encouraged to enrol for the chemistry degree at Queen’s University Belfast, which also offered the opportunity to study for an additional degree in agricultural chemistry. This, in turn opened up a career opportunity for me as a policy development officer with the Ulster Farmers’ Union.

For a period of five tremendous years, I was given the opportunity to immerse myself in every aspect of the EU’s approach to agriculture and the environment.

How did you get started in journalism?
My initial experience with the media came courtesy of a phone call from David McCoy, the then editor of Farming Life. He asked me to write an article on the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy on the local farming industry. One article turned into two and thereafter, a regular writing opportunity with Farming Life presented itself. 
Co-inciding with this, the hierarchy of the union asked me to take on the role of communications officer. Within a period of just a few short months my life became totally media-focussed.  And, thankfully, this interest (and the contacts it has generated for me within the world of freelance journalism) has helped me keep my head above water and pay a few bills for the past 25 years.

What is unique about agricultural journalism?
Agricultural journalism is unique in that its practice requires me to apply a lot of the technical training I received as a student while, at the same time, covering news and business related stories. It is also truly international in both in terms of its scope and nature. After all, everyone in the world has to eat. And the even better news is that the vast bulk of the food commodities produced on local farms are exported to countries around the world.

Recent years have also provided me with the opportunity to farm on a part-time basis. I think it’s important to have a realistic grasp of the very challenges facing local farmers on a day-to-day basis.

How would you sum up the current state of agriculture in Northern Ireland?
I am convinced that agriculture in Northern Ireland can look forward to a bright future. My confidence is based on the large number of young people now coming into the industry and the fast growing pace of technological change within the sector, which is opening up tremendous opportunities for the industry as a whole.

PEYE-041212KB1-0002The international dimension to the agri sector is extremely interesting. Everyone talks about the impact that countries such as China and India is and will continue to have on the fortunes of our farming sectors.

Personally, I thought it was all nonsense: until five years ago.  In the run-up to Christmas that year farm gate milk prices in Northern Ireland had broken through the mythical 30 pence per litre barrier.  Three months or so later they had crashed back to around 15 pence, as a consequence of the melamine crisis that had taken hold within the Chinese dairy sector.

Which story stands out as the main highlight from your career?
Back in the summer 2007, I was the first agri-journalist to infer that global milk prices were about to take off. My ‘information source’ was a South African dairy analyst, who was happy to give me a ‘heads up’ on his thoughts at that time.

When the initial story appeared in the press, the world and everyone in it had no hesitation in proclaiming that ‘yours truly’ had lost his marbles.

Three months later, I was proven correct.  Milk prices had almost doubled in the interim period. Unfortunately, China’s melamine crisis put paid to the good times a few short weeks later.

What do you do to relax?
I don’t play golf. Calf-rearing and working my livestock, for me at least, represent the perfect way to relax after a long day chasing politicians, business leaders and (of course) filing copy. I am totally signed up to the old adage that a farmer really is a man outstanding in his field!

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