Farmer in Focus - Donovan Campbell

Growing up on a farm inspired this farmer to take an unexpected career route...

Farmer in Focus - Donovan Campbell

This month we talked to Donovan, a future doctor who grew up around the farming community in Northern Ireland! Although his parents were not involved in farming, his uncles and granddad owned farms. It was interesting to hear about how farming life has shaped Donovan into the man he is today. He credits his work ethic and drive to his upbringing around the farm. We took the time to explore how farming has impacted those on the border of the industry, like Donovan.

Donovan speaks of his childhood fondly, ‘every day after primary school, I would go over to my Granda’s. At first, I wasn’t allowed to help on the farm, and I distinctly remember looking out the window and seeing all the cows and tractors… I loved it. Just by watching, I slowly worked out how things were run, and as I got older, Granda began to let me help out.’ Donovan laughed and explained that helping out always meant getting jobs no one wanted, like cleaning out the pens or spraying the slats. Still, he confirmed that this was good for building resilience and tolerance to hard times. It was also nice to get a small bit of pocket money to buy sweets at the corner store, instilling in him the idea that hard work always pays off.

As Donovan got older, he remembers spending his holidays on his uncle’s dairy farm. He joked, ‘Aye, I helped there on holidays, we kids were cheap labor, but we didn’t mind it. I’m not an indoor person, so taking time off school to be outside was always something I looked forward to.’
In addition to the personal lessons Donovan learned, he was also able to give back and bring a fresher take on how the farm could be optimized. He noted, ‘My uncle’s main crop was grass, to feed the cows. The reality was that grass growth was not meeting demand, so we had to find a way to maximize this within the same acreage.’ He brought a more scientific and technical approach to optimizing this growth by conducting regular soil ph tests and zeroing in on the micros on the farm. He explained that he believes farms can become ‘thinking farms’ that grow alongside testing to optimize future yields of crops. Although his uncles needed encouragement to test and iterate, Donovan believes that constant encouragement has now gotten them to embrace a more open mindset to testing things out.

We rounded off our chat with Donovan by asking him what his relationship with his uncles is like now. He explained that as he progresses through his medical degree, he has had less time to go back and visit the farm. ‘I study medicine in the city, so I’m there most of the time…but during the holidays, I make it a point to go back and help out. The truth is I will always be a farm kid at heart. If I’m home, I’ll be either helping out on the farm or in the back garden. As much as I can bring new ideas to the farm when I’m around, it’s a certain way of life, and you have to respect that. It’s more about finding the balance between not changing things when they aren’t broken and knowing when things can be improved. I think the younger generations around the farm are the future of this change. The reality is that… the amount of land we have will not change. Demand will continue to rise, so we must do our best to optimize how we use our land more sustainably.’

Long-term, Donovan sees himself not living in the city. He hopes that once he gets the chance to reach the top of his medical specialty, he can move back to the country and buy a farm. We have learned from Donovan that those around and adjacent to farming life can be just as impacted by it. Although Donovan is not as involved in the industry as he used to be, he still contributes to its growth. He represents the future generation of young people hoping to contribute to farming’s future!

August 1, 2022

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