Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

'My farm would not be viable only for my wife's off-farm income'

My week: Thomas Shannon

Thomas Shannon on the family farm in Lissycasey, Co Clare. Photo: Eamon Ward
Thomas Shannon on the family farm in Lissycasey, Co Clare. Photo: Eamon Ward

Ken Whelan

If the European Union abolishes or makes cuts to the single farm payment, that would be the end of farming in the west of Ireland as we know it, says Clare farmer Thomas Shannon.

The suckler farmer from Lissycasey believes the economics of running a small to medium farming enterprise has forced the younger generation off the land in search of more secure and better paid jobs in our cities and towns.

"There have been big changes in farming down the years and all the young people now want to work off the land. There was a time if you walked up any country boreen, you would have three or four houses occupied but now you are lucky to have one house occupied," says the 68-year-old.

And Thomas adds that his own 75ac farm would not be viable without his wife Josephine's off-farm income. The couple's sons, Gerard and Kieran, also work off farm.

"Gerard is a mechanic and runs a garage in the ­Lissycasey area, and Kieran is off working in Dublin. ­Neither are showing any interest in returning to run the farm but you never know," says Thomas. However, the two Shannon daughters, ­Sheila and Deirdre, are ­married to farmers in Co Clare.

"We have discussed who might take over the farm on occasions but the lads are showing no great interest. And the girls are off on their own farms.

"I am not saying the subject hasn't been discussed but you never know. You never know," says Thomas.

He took over the family farm in the 1970s when it was being run as a dairy enterprise supplying milk to Dairygold and later to the Kerry group.

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"I loved to drive and milk the cows and my wife Josephine and daughter Sheila were a great help on the farm. We also had a few sucklers on the farm during that period but as I wasn't getting any younger, we decided to switch over to a suckler enterprise about six years ago.

"The years tell on you but farming is a grand and very healthy life, though you are struggling a lot of the time. The milk price was bad for a few years and the beef price is also bad now and no-one knows what's going to happen when this Brexit thing is over," he adds.

For the moment it is all about the sucklers who will begin calving next month.

Half of the weanlings will be sold on at the marts in Ennis and Kilrush in the back end of the year, with the other half being kept and reared to two-and-a half years.

So what are the main differences between running a dairy and suckler enterprise? Very little it seems, in terms of work except that the dairy cows were the very definition of gentility but some of his Limousin sucklers are "complete wild ones".

I ask Thomas if he ever thought of converting some of his land to forestry which is a booming enterprise in the region and one which provides many farmers with a reasonable income.

"I can't say that has not been discussed. I can't say that," Thomas replies in his usual even handed way.

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