'I worry about the current indebtedness of young farmers to financial institutions'

Co Offaly farmer Joe Gaffney
Co Offaly farmer Joe Gaffney

Ken Whelan

Veteran Co Offaly farmer Joe Gaffney has an uncomplicated view of farming, summed up in his pithy observation: "Enjoy life, stay alive and pay the banks".

It's a good attitude if you are a dairy man dealing with the ups and downs of the ever volatile milk price.

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He worries about the current indebtedness of younger farmers to the financial institutions and earnestly advises them not to borrow anything more than they can repay.

After leaving St Peter's school in Wexford in the early 1960s, Joe did a stint in England for a few years with the Hawker Sidley jet manufacturing company and intended to go to Australia before getting the call back to Offaly.

When he took over the 70-acre home farm near Clara it was a mixed enterprise.

"All you could see around here back then was cattle and beet growing," he recalls.

He gradually converted the farm to the dairy enterprise it is today.

Joe farms in a partnership with his son Jim (41), running a herd of 100-plus British Friesians and Holstein crosses.

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He sells his milk to Lakelands and is happy with the current price of 31c/l, which rises to 35c/l-36c/l when bonuses are added.

He is not so happy, though, with the bureaucracy and rules he has to negotiate on the forestry and bog areas of the Gaffney enterprise. He is always at "loggerheads" with the agencies and department, he says.

"It's all rules and rules with them," he says. "They don't seem to realise that farmers are the real environmentalists in Ireland. They know all about climate change and its effects and how to deal with it and make the land better.

"But all you get from the Wildlife and Parks people are rules and more rules.

"They are great at making up rules. They may call the tune, but they are not paying the piper.

"Farmers have made rural Ireland and they know how to manage it.

"And the way to resolve the impasse between the farmers and bureaucrats on the issue is to introduce a Single Farm Payment specifically for environmentally-friendly farming."

Joe is married to retired civil servant Maureen. They have five children: Joe Jnr (46), who works his own farm nearby and also works as an engineer with Ericssons in Athlone; Jim; Cormac (36), who works with a technology firm in Barcelona; Eilish, who is completing a Sociology PhD, and May, who mixes home life with work in the arts scene in Dublin.

Off farm, Joe's interests are the IFA (he served as the county environmental chairman for some years), hurling, politics and social work.

He is an unapologetic Fianna Failer and great supporter of the Cowen dynasty in Offaly. When we were speaking last week he had just completed some door-to- door canvassing for Cllr Danny Owens, a two-time All-Ireland winner with Offaly.

Joe's interest in hurling goes back to his school days in Wexford, and he regularly meets up with his old friends from the side that won the All-Ireland Colleges championship in 1962. He feels that while Offaly hurling is "at a low ebb" now, it is "down a bit but not out".

He also does some voluntary work with the Society of St Vincent de Paul for what he describes as his "sins'.

In conversation with Ken Whelan

Indo Farming