‘My salary has gone into machinery for the last few years’
Monaghan farmer PJ Fitzsimons is not a man to do things by half measure.
When he decided to propose to his girlfriend Edel last summer, it wasn’t your usual down-on-one-knee approach.
Instead, he lined up square bales spelling ‘Marry me hey’ in one of the fields and then got Edel’s uncle to fly her over the field in his small plane so that she could see the proposals from a great height. She accepted.
It was an eventful summer all round for PJ (27) because last May he and his father, Peter, decided to get out of sucklers because of the low margins in the sector.
They are now concentrating on developing a haylage business on the 60-acre home farm in Patrick Kavanagh territory in Inniskeen, with a further 60 acres leased nearby.
“Sucklers is a losing game at the moment,” says PJ. “You could spend €800 a year on each of them and you’d belucky to get it back. It’d not viable.
“But I still won’t forget the rattle of the trailer on the road from the farm bringing the last of the sucklers for sale last May.
“But the decision was made and now we are concentrating on the hay and small bales business.
“We still have 20 heifers on the farm and we will be lucky to break even with them. Something has to be done about the prices beef farmers are receiving. I can’t see how money can be made in it.”
PJ, who works off farm as a woodwork teacher at St Aidan’s Comprehensive half an hour away in Cootehill, Co Cavan, is happy with how the haylage enterprise — which was three years in the planning — is progressing.
He supplies various equine establishments from Donegal to Dublin and Mayo with what he describes as top-of-the-range feed for their horses and he intends to expand further.
He says it has been costly in terms of machinery purchases: “My teacher’s salary for the past few years has gone into it but it has been worthwhile.”
He points out that the enterprise is an ideal fit with his day job as most of the hard work is carried out during the summer months during school holidays, and most of the baling and distribution can be done in the evenings.
The only drawback to the square baling enterprise is the weather, of course, as when it is inclement round bales have to be made and later reworked into square bales in the sheds.
PJ has been always interested in farming and got his Green Cert at Ballyhaise Agricultural College before embarking on his teaching career.
He lives just a mile from his dad and mam, Teresa, a retired school teacher. He has three sisters: Brenda and Elaine, both teachers, and Suzanne, an occupational therapist.
On the horizon is his wedding in December and the couple intend to spend their honeymoon in the United States, where PJ says he is likely to be spending more of his teacher’s salary on baling equipment.
“I want to have a look at a new square baler they have over there which could make life easier,” he says.
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