Meet the McCrackens
Not far from the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains, the undulating lush pastures of the McCracken farm provide ample grazing for the 350 cows producing top quality organic milk which goes to make Glenisk yogurt and other dairy products. John McCracken and his father Roy walk the herd down through beautiful countryside to the milking parlour twice a day as Roy and his father David did before them. It’s a long but rewarding day keeping up the seven generation McCracken dairy farming tradition.
But change has come to Tullyrush Farm between Seskinore and Omagh in Co Tyrone in recent years thanks to John, who is leading the organic dairy movement in Northern Ireland. When John returned to the farm after university in Glasgow, he decided to convert its herd and pastures to organic standards.
“After a two and a half year conversion of ground and animals, we became a fully-fledged organic farm in 2003,” says John. “At that time organic dairying was still in its infancy in Northern Ireland and there was a very limited market for our milk, so myself and other like-minded dairy farmers got together and set up Emerald Organics Ltd, a type of co-operative which distributes our milk. And that’s how I met Vincent Cleary of Glenisk.”
Roy McCracken says that when John went to university he and his wife Mareane didn’t expect their son to come back to work on the farm because most young people were leaving farming. “John coming back was totally against the flow, but he was determined. Going organic and John’s enthusiasm has blown a breath of fresh air into this farm at a time when farming was just not paying. We realised that we had to change and it was better to do something positive.
“Going organic has also helped in other ways,” says Roy. “Tullyrush Farm is one of five farms in northern Ireland and five south of the border which have joined up to take part in a cross-border initiative wind turbine project. We have worked together to apply for funds and hope to get it up and running next year. So farming organically is bringing people together and fostering cooperation. We feel that agriculture can benefit from an island approach, we don’t need to be competing with our friends in the south – we should be working together.”
Now three generations of McCracken live in different areas of the farm, with John’s grandmother Sarah in the original farmhouse. John’s parents Roy and Mareane live in a house on another part of the farm, as do John and his wife Suzanne.
"Organic farming requires high levels of stockmanship and I try to see all 350 cows every day," says John. “My spare time is limited but when I do take time off I like to travel and spend time with Suzanne who also grew up on a farm in this area. Environmental issues and food miles are hot topics of today; it is satisfying to know that what you are doing is sustainable and a more natural way to produce food.”