A helping hand on hard road to change
Farmers get a dig out with novel mentoring
In recent decades off-farm jobs came to be regarded as the salvation of the family farm. However, these jobs, mainly in construction, light engineering and assembly work, were the first to succumb to the downturn.
Brian Lyons, Smallholder Development Officer with Offaly Local Development Company is well aware of the challenges faced by all farmers but particularly by smaller farmers who depended on the job outside the farm gate.
"In 2007 we became aware that more and more drystock farmers on holdings up to 100 acres were no longer getting a decent income from the land and the off-farm jobs were not secure. These people had arrived at a crossroads and needed to make decisions about the future. With this in mind we established the Crossroads Programme."
According to Brian, the first thing the programme sought to do was enable farmers to face the reality of their situation.
"We encouraged them to look at the farm and establish if it was making a profit or a loss, independent of the single farm payment. A key question they had to ask was whether they were able to pocket this payment for the family. We then asked them to look at their skills and how those skills could be used to generate extra income on the farm. Finally, we encouraged them to examine the whole farm family situation in the context of identifying other potential for generating income."
The 20-hour Crossroads Programme consisted of seven group sessions and a farm visit. Two courses, one in Banagher and one in Tullamore, were run between winter 2009 and spring 2010. Ten farmers participated on each course and the sessions covered issues such as skill assessment, resource assessment, group work, individual coaching and mentoring. Specific information was also provided on key areas such as financial management and training opportunities. The final section of the programme focused on drawing up a time-framed action plan and establishing ways of monitoring the implementation of the plan.
Sheila Hoctor, development officer with Offaly Local Development Company, worked with Brian Lyons on the programme. For Sheila two of the great challenges faced by participants on the course centred around acceptance of the need to change and engaging in teamwork.