Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 22 February 2018

'Biggest problem facing rural Ireland is the flight from the land of younger generation'

My week: Noel Greene

Noel Greene on the family farm near Doonbeg, Co Clare. Photo: Eamon Ward
Noel Greene on the family farm near Doonbeg, Co Clare. Photo: Eamon Ward

Ken Whelan

Noel Greene reckons the biggest problem facing rural Ireland is the flight from the land by the younger generation. He predicts that land abandonment will soon become a major issue across all farming enterprises in Ireland.

"I was talking to a non-farmer friend recently who says things must be going well with farming because there were so few farmers protests over the past while. But I told him there was a huge silent protest going on with the majority of young people opting for off-farm jobs these days," says Noel.

"Farming is a great life but it is hard work, made harder by poor prices. Dairy farmers cannot survive on 35c/L of land, beef farmers cannot expect to make a profit on €4/kg for the beef, and many of the younger generation are just leaving the land these days."

Noel runs a 79ha beef and dairy enterprise, comprising the home farm, and five smaller out farms in Doomore near Doonbeg, Co Clare.

His wife Claire is a retired nurse and the couple have two daughters -- Geri-Anne (24), a local national school teacher, and Elaine (22) a nurse in St James's Hospital in Dublin.

The Greenes have been farming in the area in one way or another for five generations, but Noel believes he will be the last of this long line to pursue agriculture there.

When I suggest that one or both of the girls might marry a farmer, Noel good humouredly replies: "I don't think so. I think they would run a mile from a farmer!"

To halt this flight from the countryside, Noel says the Government will have to reboot their rural policies and will also have to maximise our green image with a new drive on agricultural exports.

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Noel is currently reconfiguring his farm enterprise and has been scaling back on the beef side over the past five years.

He now has 40 or so sucklers, mainly for sale at Ennis Mart, while his British Friesians with a dash of Holstein blood - "I had some Jersey crosses but they were hard to deal with" - provide milk for the Kerry Group.

Noel is matching his farm work to his own time and pace: "I am 60 after all," he says.

His other personal priority in agricultural terms is highlighting the dangers of the profession which he says increases as the age profile of farmers increase.

"Yes it is a dangerous job but it is certainly more dangerous when you have farmers in their 70s and 80s sill running the farm."

Of course a chat with a farmer from Doonbeg could never pass without asking about the local view of the new president of the United State, Mr Donald Trump.

Noel's view of the new American leader is positive from the viewpoint of what the Trump golf resort at Doonbeg has done for the region. "You can like him or hate him but I have to say he has created a great buzz throughout the region from Doonbeg to Quilty and beyond. I am certainly not going to complain when others are making a good living from the golf course," he said.

"I occasionally go up to the golf club for dinner and I have to say it is great to hear the American tourists praising the golf course and the restaurant there.

"You know the Americans - everything is big - but it is great to hear them saying 'what a great steak', especially when you know it was produced locally.

"And the tourists are good for the region with many of them taking the opportunity of a visit to spend time on local farms to see how we do farming here," adds Noel.

Indo Farming