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Thursday 22 November 2018

'Forestry is the biggest threat to rural life here'

 

Shane McHugh
Shane McHugh

Ken Whelan

The Government "better get their skates on" and come up with a workable fodder plan if they want to ensure farmers throughout the country have enough feed for their herds come winter time, warns Shane McHugh, a 29-year-old who farms with his father Gerard in Fenagh, Co Leitrim.

Although not badly affected by the summer heatwave at his home place in Knockmullen, Shane has seen the harshest effects of the warm weather as he travels in the south and south-east in his off-farm job as feed development officer and classifier for the Irish Holstein-Friesian Society.

"Everyone is affected by the heat this year, but farmers are badly affected in these regions and the Government should be putting in place an emergency fodder scheme for this winter. We have been lucky here in Leitrim so far and might get a third cut on the home farm, but there will definitely be fodder problems when this heat passes," says Shane.

The 'Knockmullen Holsteins', a 60-strong herd run over 100 owned and leased acres, are averaging 7,200 litres of milk with fats at 3.87pc and proteins at 3.36pc, and the farm supplies Lakeland.

Asked if he is happy with the current co-op milk price, he replies: "The price is okay. It's as good as you are going to get from the co-op at the moment."

Shane is the farmer of the three McHugh siblings, with brother Diarmuid (27) working with a local timber company and sister Shona (23) studying in child care.

Shane McHugh with dad Gerard and mother Roseanne
Shane McHugh with dad Gerard and mother Roseanne

He graduated in dairy management from Rease Heath College in Cheshire a few years ago and works the home farm with his dad, and both, in turn, are supervised by Roseanne, the mother of the house.

Weather aside, his most pressing preoccupation at the moment is the imminent arrival of his new child with his partner Imelda - an optical assistant working in Carrick-on-Shannon. The new arrival is due to make his or her bow in a few weeks' time.

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Shane is very matter of fact about all things agricultural, not least the inundation of the Leitrim countryside with forestry, especially of the unhelpful kind - i.e. Sitka spruce.

"The biggest threat, not only to agriculture but also to rural life in Co Leitrim at the moment, is forestry and Sitka spruce. There will be just a blanket of green where once there was sunlight unless Minister [Michael] Creed and his colleague Andrew Doyle don't do something soon to incentivise alternatives to Sitka spruce.

"Native broadleaves would be an option, as would more attractive tax breaks or incentives for the landowners if they were to lease the land to active farmers," adds Shane.

"And while they are tackling the Sitka spruce problem, the ministers might look at the supermarket practice of using our agricultural produce as loss leaders in their grocery portfolios.

"They should get involved with the retailers to curb this trend of dairy and beef produce being used as loss leaders. As usual, the farmers have to pick up the tab," he said.

Shane is a young farmer on a mission and he would shake up the big chair in Agricultural House on all sorts of agri issues, not least flipping the benefits of schemes like GLAS to encourage sustainable farming rather than unsustainable farming. Off farm, Shane's main interest is set-dancing - a skill he has showcased at various fleadhs and scoir events over the past number of years and a skill which will be a delight to watch when his and Imelda's new baby arrives soon.

In conversation with Ken Whelan

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