'Most of us in the west have to rely on off-farm jobs'
Eddie Flanagan was delighted with the latest Bord Bia export figures, which showed that Irish dairy and beef exports are booming.
However, he wonders if the results would be as promising if the same number methodology was applied to the amount of active small and part-time farmers west of the Shannon.
It’s a fair question — considering the roles machinery and new technology play in the modern Irish dairy and beef sectors — and it is a question the 55-year-old suckler and sheep man from Tulsk in Co Roscommon answers with some emphasis.
“The Bord Bia report was fantastic for Irish agriculture, that’s for sure, but this boom is not being felt by the farmers in my area and the west of Ireland generally, as most of the farmers here are put to the pin of their collars to make a living from the land and most have to rely on an off-farm job to make ends meet”, he says.
Eddie has been running the 100 acre home farm for more than 25 years and has to rely on his off-farm job as a tutor with the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board (GRETB), which runs adult education courses and English literacy courses for newly-arrived immigrants.
“The costs of farming in the west are rising all the time and they are now eating into the Farm Payment, which means that the average farmer down here has to have an off-farm job to make the books balance,” says Eddie.
“When I took over the farm I was getting 80 old pounds for a spring lamb, but today I am lucky to get ¤100 for the same animal — and think of all the additional costs that have been added on to the production of that lamb in the intervening 20 years or so.”
And the married father of four children — two girls doing nursing and business degrees at third level colleges and a son and daughter in primary and second level education — is also finding that the age profile of the farmers in the west is out of kilter.
“Put it this way, I am 55 years of age and I am regarded a young fella every time I go to the mart,” he points out. “Most of the guys around the ring are in their seventies.”
Eddie believes that the Department of Agriculture, the state agri-agencies and the farm organisations are not paying enough heed to the commercial and demographic changes which are occurring in Irish agriculture.
To underline his point, he recalls that of the 12 dairy farmers who were working in the Tulsk area a decade ago, only two are still in business.
Eddie adds that what dairy land is available is being bought up by the bigger ‘down country’ dairy farmers, who use the land for its grass or for rearing new stock.
He describes what is going on with farming in the west as “the silent disintegration of rural Ireland”.
Eddie intends to ensure that all his children have an alternative to farming before the family faces the question of which of them takes over the home farm.
It’s a sensible course given that the prices Eddie is receiving for his herd of 20 sucklers and 80 ewes are “tight” — in the sense of uncomfortable.
Off-farm, Eddie’s main interests are the GAA — he trains with the Tulsk Lord Edwards GAA Club — and working for the regional Alzheimer’s association.
But his main concern is the future of farming in the west.
“With me, farming is a vocation, but I would like the authorities to do a survey on the viability of farming in the west, the age profile of farmers here, and the future for farmers here,” says Eddie.
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