Farm Ireland

Thursday 26 April 2018

'Embrace wind energy rather than let the vulture funds tap into it '

My week: Tommy Cooke

Tommy and Adam Cooke check on the calves with Heidi the dog and (right) in the milking parlour. Photo: Pat Moore.
Tommy and Adam Cooke check on the calves with Heidi the dog and (right) in the milking parlour. Photo: Pat Moore.

Ken Whelan

Things are ooking up at Tommy Cooke's upland farm nestled in the Slieveardagh hills on the Kilkenny/Tipperary border as he has just been granted planning permission for a wind farm project.

He is also looking towards the future after signing a new farm partnership agreement with his 20-year-old-son Adam

The only blot on the landscape is the milk price but then that's not unique it's universal among the dairy fraternity.

Tommy farms 180 owned and rented acres on the Slieveardagh hills which at its highest point is over 1,000ft above sea level. His herd of 100 New Zealand Friesians, who are producing 6,000 litres a head for Glanbia, have spectacular views of Callan and Urlingford.

He is delighted with the go-ahead for the wind farm - a planning permission which has taken over 15 years to achieve.

It's a five turbine energy facility shared between himself and two local farmer colleagues in a joint venture with Gaelectric.

Each turbine will produce 2.3 megawatts of energy for the national grid. The three farmers have both a rental and equity share in the venture which should be up and running by the end of the year.

Tommy first mooted the idea back in 2000 after doing a UCD course on developing new streams of income for rural Ireland.

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"I thought developing the wind farms along the lines of the Danish community based model was a better way to embrace wind energy than allowing the international investment funds to steal the wind of the Slieveardagh hills for their pension funds," Tommy says matter of factly.

"But then like everything in Ireland for every person with a good idea there are 10 permanent naysayers in front of him saying it's never going to happen."

However, it has all come to a happy ending as Tommy's herd can look forward to the smooth whirring of the wind turbines come the autumn.

The other good news from the farm is the new farm partnership agreement which he has drawn up with his son Adam.

Tommy, who took over the family farm when he was 40, believes the youngsters should be given some skin in the game at a much earlier age and says these partnerships are the way forward.

"You can say what you like about the former Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney but he has done some great work on getting a stepping stone culture so that the next farming generation can become involved more quickly in agriculture."

Under the old system the wait was too long for the youngsters and they just drifted away from the land, he adds.

Tommy, who is married to Alma a bookkeeper in Kilkenny city, can see the drift away from the couple's own family. Wesley (30) is off in Australia working as a diesel fitter, Katherine (24) is in Canada after graduating from UCD with a Social Studies degree and Simon (19) is doing computer science studies in Maynooth at the moment when not playing drums with the interestingly named Kilkenny band 'Beautiful Corruption'.

Which leaves Adam to carry on the family's farming tradition which dates back through various family links to the 1700s.

He is currently studying at Kildalton and is looking forward to delights of a summer of farm experience in Canada.

Then I remember Tommy's involved in Kilkenny LEADER and ask him if he has any plans of doing some more rural development work.

"No, the LEADER one and two programmes were run from the ground up but the opposite is the case now. When I saw the politicians texting their constituents from the actual meeting chamber that they had won funding for their pet projects I said to myself that's not LEADER and I resigned and that's it," he says in a quiet tone that is not for budging

For now Tommy is happy that the pension funds are not stealing the wind above the Slieveardagh hills and he is thinking about investing in new buildings when he increases his herd from 100 to around 140. But the new sheds won't be happening until something positive is happening with the milk price.

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