Positive vibes on dairying
It's not all gloom and doom in the milk business as our deputy editor discovered in Cork last week
Published 20/01/2016 | 02:30
Over 600 farmers gathered in Cork last week for the annual two day Positive Farmers conference. One of the aims of the event is to highlight the opportunities for ambitious young people in the dairy industry.
A great example of that was Colm O'Sullivan, who is determined to build a full-time career for himself in dairy farming, despite coming from a 1ac small-holding in north Cork.
The 28-year-old (pictured below) always had an interest in agriculture, but it took a couple of wrong turns before he realised that being landless was not a barrier to one day owning his own commercial farm.
"From an early age I was generally found chasing tractors around the countryside on my bicycle," he told delegates at the Positive Farmers conference.
"I was mad about machinery and bought a clapped-out Massey Ferguson tractor for £450 with my communion money. Thankfully it never started, and cured me of my heavy-metal disease.
"After my Leaving Cert, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I chose agriculture in Kildalton, by chickened out at the last moment as I felt there wouldn't be a place for someone without land to fall back to.
"So I started a degree in construction. Two years into it, the boom went bust, and I came to the realisation that I was totally uninspired. I had no idea what direction I wanted to go, and was lacking in confidence at this stage.
"But I was lucky in a way, because I started helping on a neighbour's suckler farm, and discovered that I had a huge passion for working the land, especially livestock.
"This neighbour encouraged me to apply again to ag college in Kildalton.
"This was the turning point in my life. I'd come home from the lectures buzzing, and got used to the funny looks from those wondering what I was doing there, especially since I didn't "even have an uncle that owned a farm!"
"I needed to be focused though - I didn't even know the meaning of the word lactation. But I think I benefitted from having an impartial viewpoint, and being free of the 'that's not the way we do it at home' attitude.
"As someone without any real farming connections, I knew all I had for support was my ability and my reputation, so I worked hard at developing these.
"I invested in myself by ensuring that my work placements were with great farmers and the likes of Teagasc Moorepark, and I also borrowed €9,000, much of which was needed to finish my education at the Royal Agricultural College in England.
"I stood out like a sore thumb among the wealthy landowners' sons and daughters, but this didn't faze me as I knew an honours degree from a prestigious college would stand to me.
"A number of people told me to get a steady job in Moorepark when I finished in Kildalton, but I was keen to stretch myself more.
"I worked for a large farm management company called Velcourt in Devon, where I found myself in the deep end when the farm manager walked out during milking one weekend. I was suddenly in charge of 400 cows and staff.
"I spent two years there, and tried to meet as many people as possible. I drove 7.5 hours to Scotland to visit a farming couple that I got on great with, Brendan and Maureen Muldowney.
"I was getting a number of offers both in the UK and Ireland, but decided to head for New Zealand on a fact finding mission…but with a one-way ticket.
"I started working on a 700 cow farm, then I found myself a herd manager on an 1,100 cow unit. It was a great experience.
"But during all this time, I was keeping in touch with Brendan Muldowney, who was still farming in Scotland. However, he was also looking to set up a dairy partnership in Kilkenny. They were offering me a stake in the business, which I decided to take. I have spent the last 18 months setting up a partnership arrangement with Brendan for this farm. I am putting €25,000 of my own money into building a 170 cow herd.
"I put a fair bit of effort into saving, to the point that I even do out a cash-flow on personal spending. But you should never prioritise wages and saving over good learning experiences."