Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Young farmer on the importance of getting a education before taking over farm

My week... Shane Fitzgerald

Shane Fitzgerald, Portlaw with his Dad John.
Shane Fitzgerald, Portlaw with his Dad John.
Shane Fitzgerald and his father John on the family farm near Portlaw, Co Waterford. Photo: Sean Byrne

Ken Whelan

Shane Fitzgerald is a young farmer on a mission and is half way through expanding the Holstein- Friesian herd on the 250 acre home farm to 200 cows by 2019. The herd count is currently 165 cows.

With 40pc of the herd's milk going to Glanbia at a fixed price of 31c/l and the remainder at the market price, the 2016 Teagasc/FBD Student of the Year believes the expansion of the family farm near Portlaw in Waterford will pay for itself.

He is philosophical about milk prices, accepting market fluctuations as part of parcel of the dairy world though in an ideal world he would like a floor price of 30c/l from which the co-ops could not depart.

Shane's educational background - a Level 8 business qualification from Waterford IT and a Level 7 in dairy management from Kildalton - gives him a rounded view on such matters.

In addition to the academic qualifications he also has work experience on a 2,000 cow dairy farm in New Zealand a few years ago.

His trip to New Zealand brought home to him the importance of a qualified farm labour force, something Shane believes is being neglected by the Irish agricultural authorities.

Shane Fitzgerald, Portlaw
Shane Fitzgerald, Portlaw

"In New Zealand we had a big team running the farm outside Christchurch but they were mainly Indians and people from the Philippines who were working there. The same thing is happening here these days with a lot of the hard work being carried out by immigrants. And with the economy improving and more workers transferring back to the construction industry that trend is likely to continue," he says.

Shane is an only son and he says his father encouraged him to complete his business studies in Waterford IT first so he did not have to worry about the ever-expanding paperwork load for the Department of Agriculture and the Co-ops.

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"The partnership with Dad is working well. We work well as a team and I do all the financial stuff including the form filling which Dad has always hated."

His mother Bernie, who comes from what Shane describes as "non agricultural" Tramore, works off farm at a Co Waterford frozen food factory, while his sister Sarah (25) also has a business degree from WIT and works as an accountant locally.

And just in case there is any slip up in the form filling Shane's girlfriend Kathy also works as an accountant in Waterford.

Off farm he has the normal interests of a 26-year-old, including Waterford GAA and rugby although his main interest would be travelling.


"Myself and Kathy don't like sitting around so we take as many breaks as possible and always travel somewhere in Ireland of interest in our spare time. We are passionate about getting around the country to see things," he says.

Shane's overall view of the current agricultural scene is simple: "There's a lot of young farmers out there with a lot of drive and passion wanting to make things happen. It's important to spend time in education and to improve yourself"

So what's Shane's next ambition I ask? "I was talking to a few people recently and I might apply for a Nuffield scholarship and see how that goes," he replies.

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