'Health is a serious issue for farmers - we need to start talking about it'


Auctioneer, John Osbourne in action during last week's Mart in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary. Photo Kevin Byrne
Auctioneer, John Osbourne in action during last week's Mart in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary. Photo Kevin Byrne
Con Costigan.
Jack Darcy
John Grace.
Thomas Darcy
Tom Duffy
Tony Monteith

Storm Powell

Storm Powell visited Roscrea Mart and asked farmers their views on silage cutting, forestry on farms, the health implications of using Roundup and their succession plans

Con Costigan

Templetuohy, Co Tipperary

Con Costigan.

Seventy-two-year-old Con Costigan has 115ac, sucklers and dry stock, and also has 70ac of bog land from which he produces turf and moss peat.

Con cut 50ac of silage on May 25. "We cut in dry weather and had not grazed it. We are very happy with both the quantity and quality." Con doesn't do a second cut. "We put cattle on the after grass. Planting trees is certainly good for the environment and is a useful crop but only on poorer land," says Con, who doesn't feel it is suited to his farm. He uses Roundup to spray grass before reseeding but worries about the health risks particularly if it is not sprayed in correct conditions. "A lot of research is being done and we need to keep abreast with this."

Con handed over 140ac farm to his son Padraig six years ago. "I kept the rest of my land to farm it myself as I enjoy it." Con is keenly aware of the importance of successful succession planning. "I have a will and do have succession plans."

Thomas and Jack Darcy

Borrisokane, Co Tipperary

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Jack Darcy

The Darcy brothers Thomas, 27, and Jack, 20, farm 300ac with their father Thomas senior, focusing on bringing cattle from stores to beef.

Silage has not yet been cut but they hope to get it cut over the next two weeks. "We are worried about the weather but the forecast is good and, hopefully, it won't rain too much."

Thirty-three acres of marginal land on the farm was planted into forestry in 2005. "The land was of no agricultural use but we hope to make farmland out of it at some stage and may plant a further 30ac in the future. For intensive farmers, it's good to give the land a break and regenerate the soil."

Thomas Darcy

The Darcys use Roundup on the farm for weed control. Both have undertaken spraying courses and are aware of health aspects and the importance of proper storage and application rates. "Proper training and using the right apparatus reduces risks. We use breathing apparatus, gloves and spraying overalls and we have a lockable chemical store with an extractor fan on at all times."

The boys say the farm is in safe hands for generations to come. In November 2018, they set up a family company with their father and this ensures equal partnership, equal profit sharing, equal workload and equal say in management decisions.

Tom Duffy

Rathcabbin, Roscrea, Co Tipperary

Tom Duffy

Fifty-one-year-old Tom is a suckler and beef farmer on 80ac at Rathcabbin. Tom also has an off-farm job as a Health and Safety officer and tutor with FRS Training. He is hoping to cut silage this week and welcomed the recent wet weather - but hopes that it will improve.

"The incentives for planting forestry are good," says Tom who has planted 20ac of marginal land and is in year seven of the plan. "Planting trees helps to reduce carbon footprint and ensures that marginal ground is being well used. It is also an income for the future and, hopefully, the thinnings can help put our children through college."

Tom uses Roundup to burn off grass before reseeding and is keenly aware of its health implications. As a Health and Safety officer, he teaches farmers the principles of SUD (The Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive) which sets out minimum rules to reduce the risks to human health and the environment that are associated with pesticide use. "It's vital that guidelines are strictly adhered to and that the proper personal protective equipment is used. It is important not to over-dose and to spray during the correct climate. Training courses on spraying are easily available and a spray operator's pack costs only €60."

Tom is the fourth generation on his farm and his two sons aged 13 and 10 are already showing an interest. "The farm will definitely stay in the family for the next generation," says Tom.

John Grace

Newtown, Ferbane, Co Offaly

John Grace.

John farms sucklers and dry stock on 150ac at Newtown. "It's a mixture of good and marginal land. John also does some haulage work and is a cattle agent.

Due to health reasons, John has not managed to cut any silage to date this year and hopes to cut 45ac the third week of July. "I'm not worried about the weather - the land needed a certain amount of rain," he says.

Six acres of wet land are planted in forestry. "It's in year four now. The land was previously of no value and I welcome the income from the trees. It's tempting to plant more. Aesthetically, it looks well and it provides shelter for our yard."

John doesn't use Roundup on the farm apart from a little around the house but worries about the health aspects for farmers who are careless when spraying. "Health in general terms is a serious issue for farmers. Farming is a hard physical way of life and lots of farmers suffer from back pain, limps and other ailments. We need to start talking about it," he says.

Tony Monteith

Shinrone, Co Offaly

Tony Monteith

Eighty-year-old Tony Monteith has been dealing in cattle all his life and visits marts three to four days weekly. He also has a 25ac dry stock farm at Cloughmoyle. He has no intention of retiring.

Tony doesn't cut silage as he buys all his fodder and hay. He has no interest in planting trees. "At this stage, I'll stick to what I know." Tony doesn't believe the hype about climate change. "Cattle are not causing all the pollution. Look at the volume of traffic in the big cities and the increase of factories."

Though he doesn't spray Roundup himself, he says: "I have never seen anyone's health affected by it and farmers have been using it for years." Tony plans to leave his land to his four daughters and, "they can decide what to do with it. There's very little incentive for young people to take over small acreage, the small man is being pushed out," says Tony.

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