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'There's no way you can make money from beef these days'


Barry Lenihan at work on his farm in Adare, Co Limerick. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22

Barry Lenihan at work on his farm in Adare, Co Limerick. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22

Barry Lenihan at work on his farm in Adare, Co Limerick. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22

Barry Lenihan is up to his eyes at the moment, what with running the suckler ­enterprise on the home farm in Adare, Co Limerick and working with South West ­Forestry as a financial adviser to clients interested in investing in forestry.

He carries some 40 suckler cows on his holding near the picturesque village and sells them at local marts such as Sixmilebridge, Kilmallock and Listowel - and when not on the farm, he is at his desk assessing land parcels throughout the country for SWS.

The 44-year-old splits his time between the two jobs, with forestry taking up most of his time and providing for his family of five.

"There is no way you would make a living on the returns from cattle farming at the moment, so the forestry work is essential.

"I try and keep my farming activities to my spare time. That's the way it is," Barry explains.

Up to 2009 he worked with Ulster Bank and then transferred to SWS Forestry to cover financial and legal matters at the firm.

Over the past few years, he has noticed some interesting trends emerging on farmers' attitudes to forestry - not least the fact that intensive beef farmers and - to a lesser extent - dairy farmers are coming back into the market for parcels of lands suitable for afforestation.

The trend is similar to what was happening in the 1980s when dairy farmers used to buy blocks of marginal land to create a new income stream in forestry and increase their Single Farm Payment.

"There is a view out there that forestry might be the type of insurance policy needed for intensive farming enterprises at the moment, as a hedge against any environmental restrictions which the European Commission maybe considering on the air emission problems being caused by cattle," he suggests.

"With overall agricultural emissions now under serious scrutiny in Brussels, the fear is that the EU will move on these emissions sooner rather than later - and possibly introduce a polluter pays policy on these emissions," Barry explains.

And this may come in the form of balancing the air emissions associated with the dairy/beef sector by insisting that farmers take equivalent anti- air pollution measures on their farms-along the lines of a "trees for emissions" regime, he points out.

"It a long way from the days when a farmer wanting to take life a little easier might plant land, rather than rent it, and retained the basic payments on the planted land," he says.

It is just a trend at the moment, Barry emphasises, but trends have a habit of becoming the routine

It a busy life for Barry, who is married to Mairead, a local government official with Limerick City Council. They have five young children - Maurice (11), Patrick (10), Joseph (8), Finbarr (7) and Kathryn (one-and-a-half), with very little spare time for other pursuits, though he still takes an active interest in his local GAA clubs, Croagh Kilfinny and Adare.

Down on the farm, weaning is the main job at the moment and caring for the Limousin X suckler herd that will be next calving in June and July.

Sorting the housing facilities to accommodate the cows and calves is the immediate concern.

On the summer breeding cycle, he says: "More often than not, the cows calve unassisted and both the cows and calves are good and strong before housing in late October

"Hopefully the market will improve come the springtime to make the investment worthwhile, and then we will start all over again" he adds with fingers crossed.

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