Farm Ireland

Thursday 24 August 2017

Farming, fine weather and welly throwing draw in record crowds

Sports stars among the 71,000 punters out for agriculture's top event, writes Aideen Sheehan

Presidential candidate Mary Davis tries her hand at Portwest throwing the wellie competition
Presidential candidate Mary Davis tries her hand at Portwest throwing the wellie competition
Jim Cronin from Bridgetown, Co Clare, with his horses Qualitie and Quaroba
Mary McAleese greets wellwishers
Two young boys listen attentively to President Mary McAleese's address
Four-year-old Neil Byrne from Killeen, Co Laois, gets to grips with a display plough at the event

AGRICULTURE is the star of the Irish economy in tough economic times, President Mary McAleese said yesterday.

Farming had always been "the heartland and the soul of Ireland", now it is "the economic backbone as well", she told a crowd of 71,000 attending the opening day of the Ploughing Championships in Athy, Co Kildare.

New figures show record levels of Irish food exports this year and more students entering Teagasc farming courses than ever before.

Rural Ireland was now the first place to look for leadership and star quality, and agrifood was heading an export-led recovery, Mrs McAleese said.

"It's an absolutely remarkable story that a people of four million are now feeding more than 30 million people and will very shortly be feeding more than 50 million people in the world, so congratulate yourselves," she said.

Fine weather and firm footing helped the 80th year of the Ploughing Championships get off to a flying start.

Organisers put the unprecedented first-day crowd -- 5,000 more than last year's record -- down to many people travelling before showers and more unsettled conditions are expected to move in today.

The biggest ever opening-day crowd resulted in one-hour tailbacks to get onto the site for traffic, from the east in particular.

Athletics star Derval O'Rourke said she was gobsmacked by the scale of the event as thousands visited her in the National Dairy Council tent to wish her well in the London Olympics next year.

"It's my first time here and I would have always assumed it's just about farming, but there's so much here that would be of interest to me and anyone from other backgrounds," she said.

Other sporting stars attending included Kilkenny hurlers Michael Kavanagh and Tommy Walsh, and Munster rugby player John Hayes.

Welly throwing was one of the more unusual sports being pursued, with hundreds lining up to fling a boot in aid of the St Vincent de Paul.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said the latest figures from Bord Bia showing food exports up 25pc in two years to almost €9bn showed the sector was outperforming all targets.

He will travel to Algeria and China in the near future to foster further trade links and maintained that not a week goes by without new opportunities for selling Irish food. Mr Coveney also announced that payments of €220m to over 100,000 farmers in the Disadvantaged Areas scheme would begin this week.

Speaking about the future of farm payments, he said he would like to ensure payments were directed towards active farmers rather than landowners with token animal stocks.

Figures released by training body Teagasc yesterday showed there were now 1,011 people taking part in agriculture and horticulture courses.

This was higher than at any time in the last two decades and 250 extra positions had been created to meet demand.

Speaking in Athy, Teagasc's director of knowledge transfer, Dr Tom Kelly, said: "The growing interest among young people to study agriculture and horticulture reflects the solid prospects for the agriculture sector into the future."

Dairy, beef and tillage farmers had all had a good year in 2011, although dairy farmers needed to watch they did not exceed quotas and risk superlevy fines.

Meanwhile, Farming Independent writer Darragh McCullough was voted the second "hottest" agriculture journalist in a poll by young farmers' group Macra na Feirme.

Mr McCullough garnered 12pc of the 230 votes cast, losing out to fellow 'Ear to the Ground' presenter Ella McSweeney, who captured 51pc of the vote.

Irish Independent