Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

'For just €12million they can save the jobs of 3,900 farmers'

My week: Kenneth O'Brien, Glenamaddy, Co Galway - farmer and 'Forgotten Farmers' campaigner

Ken Whelan

It has been a busy week for Kenneth O'Brien what with dosing and paring the sheep and weighing and sorting out the cattle on his 32ha farm near Glenamaddy in Co Galway.

"Seriously back breaking" is how he describes it and he will have another few serious weeks of work with his livestock until the winter sets in.

"I'm generally making room on the farm at the moment," he explains.

Kenneth is founder of the Forgotten Farmers movement, which has been calling for action with ICSA support, and at 33 years of age he reckons he has just about a year left in farming unless Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, addresses the 'reference year' anomalies which deprive the 3,900 Forgotten Farmers of a viable EU farm payment.

A cohort of farmers commenced their farming activity too late to benefit from the 2000-2002 reference period but are now considered to be too long farming to get an opportunity under the new Basic Payment Scheme.

Two of his neighbours, also in their 30s, have just got out of farming and have left the land for jobs in the nearby towns.

Many more will follow, according to Kenneth, unless this is addressed by the powers at Agriculture House with some urgency.

"After all they said they would do it two years ago," he says.

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"I can't figure it out. You have the Government Ministers talking about creating new jobs all the time yet for a CAP budget adjustment of just €12m they can save the jobs of the 3,900 affected by the reference year anomalies. It doesn't make sense."

He then does the brutal mathematics on his situation.

"I have a farm payment of just €780 and outgoings on the farm in excess of €23,000 for silage, fertiliser and land - and that's before I buy and sell any livestock'."

Kenneth, who is single, comes from a family of 12 who were brought up on a small farm in Galway.

He has been farming on his own for nearly 15 years now.

He sells his livestock at marts in Castlerea, Roscommon and sometimes Mountbellew and occasionally supplies animals for killing to Kepak in Athleague and Dawn Meats in Ballyhaunis.

"If the reference year business was cleared up all these farmer jobs would be protected as well as the jobs at the marts, co-ops and meat plants and it would it would safeguard jobs in the local rural economy," he says.

"We got the Oireachtas Agricultural committee to back our case but the Minister for Agriculture and his officials reversed their decision," Kenneth explains.

Kenneth and his colleagues are arranging another protest meeting on the matter at the Hudson Bay hotel in Athlone in a month's time "where Minister Coveney will not be flavour of the month and where the politicians will be shown the lie of the land in no uncertain terms".

In the meantime he has winter preparations to get on with.

He questions how he could consider entering the Beef Data and Genomics Programme and sign up for six years when he is uncertain if he or most of those in the same situation will be working the land come the end of 2016.

Indo Farming