Farm Ireland

Wednesday 23 January 2019

'I don't see how you can farm without an off-farm job'

Niamh McGuinness
Niamh McGuinness

Ken Whelan

Niamh McGuinness, who is doing her Green Cert at Teagasc Mullingar, considers the pros and cons of going into partnership with her father PJ at the family dairy farm at Ballynacarrigy outside Mullingar.

The 28-year-old only child of PJ and Mary has been into farming since her childhood, but given the milk price and the on-farm costs, she is wondering whether the figures add up to make a go of it.

"It seems to me that the only people making money from farming are the co-ops and supermarkets, while the farmers have to bear all the costs from silage and contracting to fertilisers and straw for the calves," she says.

"Certainly at the current price of 33c/l it is hard to make the books balance."

The McGuinnesses have a herd of 40 British Friesians supplying Lakeland - down from the 60 head which they had before PJ was hospitalised earlier this year and was forced to cut the herd to suit his health.

It was during PJ's absence that Niamh got a real sense of farm economics as she took charge, and she now wonders if any set of numbers can be achieved that will make any farming enterprise profitable of itself.

"Most of the students I am doing the Green Cert with at Teagasc Mullingar have alternative professions like teaching and engineering to fall back on when they go into partnership - they will be working at those professions during the day and farming in their time off," she says.

"You could really say they are part-time farmers in a way.

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"I don't see how you can farm without an off-farm income," concludes the business diploma graduate, who works off-farm in retail.

Niamh turned 28 on the day we were talking last week and was planning a night out, but a question about her Green Cert studies may have dampened the mood.

"I have been doing it since March and I have never studied so much in my life," she says.

Milking platform

But you get the impression that despite the downsides of farming, she will opt for a partnership with PJ when she has completed her agricultural studies and they will start planning the future strategy.

The cut in herd size might then be reversed, as Niamh explains that improving the milking platform and building or refurbishing the farm sheds will have to become priorities at Ballynacarrigy.

Apart from the milk price Niamh is "happy" about how things are going on the farm.

"We got the first cut of round bales done in June and got the turf home. It's usually September before all this work is done especially with the weather of the last few years," she explains.

Off-farm Niamh has a busy weekly schedule ranging across a diverse set of pastimes.

One evening is given over to the local MACRA - the volley ball and football section - another to Westmeath Civil Defence Corps and another to what she describes as " social dancing" otherwise known as jiving, waltzing and the quick-step.

Then there is the walking and cycling locally, plus her work on the committee of the Mullingar Show.

"We had a very successful and well attended show last weekend," she adds proudly.

In conversation with Ken Whelan

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