Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 25 March 2017

The model farmer who doesn't own a single acre

Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Pictured are (LtoR) John O'Connor, CFO, Zurich Insurance, Michael Doyle, Head of Sales and Agri, Zurich Insurance and Noel McCall from Kilcoole, Wicklow who is the Grand Prix Winner of the Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards. Photo: El Keegan
Pictured are (LtoR) John O'Connor, CFO, Zurich Insurance, Michael Doyle, Head of Sales and Agri, Zurich Insurance and Noel McCall from Kilcoole, Wicklow who is the Grand Prix Winner of the Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards. Photo: El Keegan

My spirits have been buoyed by the many good people in Irish agriculture that I encountered while co-ordinating the judging for the recent Zurich/Farming Independent Farmer of the Year awards.

I dealt with farmers from across all sectors, advisers and many other agriculture professionals from the foot soldiers to the captains.

Some of these I would have known before, many not, but every one of them received me openly and warmly, despite being busy with their own careers.

The overriding feelings I found in them were of profound interest and respect for Irish farming. For their patience and goodwill I am extremely grateful.

The awards attracted a strong entry across the enterprises but I also discovered that there are many fantastic operators who will never enter a farming competition.

It's not that they are lacking in a competitive spirit. Everyone wants to be ahead of their neighbour, whether that is getting the cattle out to grass first, spreading fertiliser or cutting the silage.

A number of farmers spoke of being uncomfortable in the limelight; that they prefer to operate below the radar. They would feel awkward about standing up and declaring to their peers and neighbours, "this is what I do".

The awards were presented at a black tie do in the Ballsbridge Hotel, Dublin 4 and the attendance was largely made up of those I had been in contact in over the past few months.


They were not "suits" who are out at these things every other week but country folk who are happy to have a reason to dress up, especially the ladies who had a good excuse to buy a new gúna.

For yours truly who works from home, it was an opportunity to chat with some of my fellow Farming Independent columnists. I also got to say goodbye to the outgoing editor, Declan O'Brien, whom I wish the best of luck in his future endeavours.

The Grand Prix winner was Noel McCall, a dairy farmer from Wicklow. The dairy judges - UCD lecturer Karina Pierce, agricultural consultant Mike Brady and Teagasc Limerick/Kerry regional manager John Donworth - described Noel, "as unique as a successful dairy farmer, in that he has no owned land and no off farm income."

Noel is not even from a farming background but, from an early age, worked on local dairy farms. He went on to study agriculture. About ten years ago, he got the opportunity to lease a farm and built up a single farm payment by farming beef.

He subsequently took over a dairy farm from a retiring dairy farmer and has just signed another long term lease on this farm.

"While creating a profitable enterprise is challenge enough on most farms, the notion that you can be a full-time farmer without ever having owned an acre of land is simply incomprehensible to most farmers," my colleague Darragh McCullough said in Noel's citation for the overall award.

When Noel was announced as category winner, his friends and family including wife Louise jumped up and cheered with delight. It is heartening to see this kind of unbounded joy, no matter the endeavour.

At the announcement of the overall winner, the celebrations were even more enthusiastic and seeing how much it meant to Noel himself made me quite emotional.

Less than twelve hours later, I was feeling emotional again. Turning on the radio as I hopped into the car the following morning, the first of the ballot boxes in the marriage equality referendum were just being opened and the victory for the Yes side was already obvious.

Much has been written as to the reasons for this result by those who know about these things but, to my mind, there was certainly an element of societal payback for all the ills that have been visited on the various marginalised people in this country over a long number of years.

However, while 1.2 million people voted Yes, 734,000 voted No and hopefully this will not be lost amidst the euphoria.

The No vote was stronger in rural areas where there are more older people and I fear that this result may make this vulnerable group feel even further marginalised.

It would be a pity if one frustrated minority was to be replaced by another.

Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said last week that this result is a visible step in a social revolution which has been ongoing for many years.

And there is certainly more to come. I wonder if I will live to see the first priests marry each other.

afitzgerald@ independent.ie

Indo Farming