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“The Man on the Ground is the Thatcher”

01 June 2018
Type Media Article

By Bernadette Leahy, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare

Listening to the people on the ground, our policy makers could deliver effective programmes in agriculture and nurture local rural development initiatives that promote Rural Diversification.

History has shown that overexpansion and factory farming operations can lead to losses which result in price collapses and crop failures and displacement of rural communities.

Our own history of The Great Famine was caused by tenant farmers being over reliant on potatoes as their staple diet. Weather conditions and lack of crop rotation resulted in half of the Irish population being lost to starvation and emigration.

The success of rural communities is not based only on commercial success. It is based on the quality and fabric of rural communities where families can live and work with an acceptable standard of living. This quality supersedes the lure of city life and the rigours of the “commuter family”.

Background:

Many success stories in agricultural communities have evolved from young people raised on small mixed enterprises of poultry, dairying, sheep and cattle.  Philip Treacy, the world famous hat maker from Ahascragh, Ballinasloe derived his feathered inspirations from tending to his mother’s hens as a child on their farm.

Teagasc Advisory in the past had a policy of providing advice to farmers where farm incomes could be enhanced through diversifying into tourism, vegetable growing, mushroom and pig production.  An excellent Poultry Advisory Service was provided by Farm Home Advisers who retrained to provide a very popular Farm Inheritance Advisory Service in the ‘80’s and 90’s.  Each county unit had a Horticultural Advisor where farmers diversified into commercial vegetable growing.  It was instrumental in advising local growers such as Mahoney’s of Moyleen, Loughrea, who  have carried on the tradition. Horticultural Advisory covered areas such as Bee Keeping, Orchard Management and Landscape Horticulture.

Radharc Landscapers (Athenry), Wardes and Weily’s (Ballinasloe based) are all Landscape and Garden Centres with formal training.

Options Courses:

I initiated a series of talks relating to Farm Diversification under the Teagasc Options Programme last October 2017. Recognising that not all of rural development is based on commercial development, I invited Sean Broderick of Galway Rural Development (GRD) to speak. The Rural Social Scheme provides many part-time farmers a source of locally based work. It was clear to be seen that many farmers derived immense fulfilment which enhanced local community and tourist projects. Sean has successfully lobbied for 200 more places on that nationally run scheme.

Margaret Leahy of South West Mayo Development “wooed” farmers to the benefits of offering people with mental and physical disabilities a “life changing experience” through working on suitable mixed enterprise farms. She recently trained up 4 suitable farmers to host clients on their farms from the Ballinasloe area.

Organic Vegetable farmer Padraic Fahy of Beechlawn Organics, Ballinasloe spoke of his journey through Super Valu Academy and Local Enterprise Office to achieving his Origin Green Bord Bia status. He was fully committed to encouraging fellow organic farmers to do the same.

Local Beekeeper, Noel Leahy of Slieve Aughty Honey offered a fascinating insight into how his mother’s bee hive was his alternative source of work when his building work “dried up” in 2008. He spoke to the group about his passion for tourist networking and even suggested about plans for a Visitor Centre to promote bees and the natural environment in the Kilnadeema area.

Noel Kennedy, Teagasc Forester outlined the financial attractions of planting increasing wet farmlands typical of some western counties while Breda Fox of Galway LEO encouraged participants to avail of their business development courses to further ideas and get assistance in some grant aid applications.

AIB Enterprise Development Manager,  Eamon O’Reilly spoke on the final night and offered shrewd advice on the importance of preparing a Business Development Plan before seeking a loan to develop an enterprise. At present many loans are available to dairy enterprises due to low age profile and income earning capacity. However AIB were open for business where a sound business plan was in place for all enterprises.

Farm Visit:

The Options course finished with a visit in early November to Derek and Brendan Allen’s Castlemines Farm outside Roscommon town where the Allens have a mixed beef, sheep, tillage and large scale turkey enterprise. These energetic brothers were National  Award Winners for their home produced pork,  bronze turkey and “dry aged” beef which were on display  in their fine shop opposite the Mart in Roscommon.

When asked about expansion Derek was quite happy with Castlemines achievements to date. He saw a future in buying quality stock from local farmers at the right price and even suggested that each town should have an abattoir like in the old days. As the saying goes “small is beautiful”.

Summary:

  • Diversity in our rural enterprises is a healthy thing
  • Farm families have been open to it in the past
  • Let’s do it in the future but please listen to the man and woman on the ground!