'I hear about farmers working at 10 at night and I just don't get it'

Me week... Julian O'Keeffe, Newmarket, Co Cork, dairy farmer and forestry advisor

Julian O'Keefe from Newmarket, Co Cork.
Julian O'Keefe from Newmarket, Co Cork.

Ken Whelan

Keeping busy and staying organised is the recipe for a happy life according to Julian O'Keeffe a Cork dairy farmer who also works with the SWS forestry advisory service.

"The forestry work provides an income which is useful with the milk price so low. I'd do about four days a week with the forestry when times are busy with the rest of the time working on the farm. My wife Kathleen is a stay at home wife and that is a considerable help," says Julian.

His catchment area covers West Cork, West Limerick and other parts of Munster and involves outlining the benefits of forestry, to interested farmer. He demonstrates the income streams available from forests and helps identify suitable strips of marginal farm land which could be used for trees.

"I do the figures with the farmers on their marginal land and show them their options. I find they are more likely to talk on a farmer to farmer basis. They like to know that you have got your hands dirty on a farm.

"Then it is up to them to choose what to do - either to develop some forestry themselves or sell their marginal land to forestry companies," Julian explains.

He has been a forestry adviser for three years now and has advised hundreds of clients. "The farmers usually break down into two categories - the younger farmers who normally use the income derived from forestry to pay off their mortgages on their new family homes and those who are in their fifties and are thinking of retiring," Julian explains.

Many of his clients - especially in the Duhallow area of West Cork - have been adversely affected by the Special Protection Area (SPA) status for the Hen Harrier which has effectively sterilised their land from an enterprise point of view.

Julian is adamant that something has to be done to help farmers with these wildlife designations. "It's terrible for them," he says.

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But the forestry scheme at least puts a floor on the value of land at between €4,000 and €4,500 an acre but the farmers affected by the hen harrier regulations are "really suffering" he points out.

He can see the day arriving when every farm will have to carry a percentage of its acreage under trees, partly because of climate change, but mainly because of the carbon footprint generated by whatever farming enterprise is being carried out on the individual farm.

Back on the 60ac home farm at Meelin near Newmarket, it's all hands to the pumps in the dairy which produces some 300,000 litres of milk for the Kerry group. "Kerry took over our Newmarket Co-op so I suppose I am an adopted Kerryman now," he wryly remarks.

The O'Keeffes run a 50/60 strong Friesian Holstein cross herd and, apart from wife Kathleen, their children -Katherina (21), Maurice (19) and Lisa (17) help out.

Like many dairy farmers he is beyond talking about the milk price and prefers to consider his "bucket list" now that the big 50th birthday milestone approaches.

A GAA fanatic, he spends much of his spare time helping out at his local Meelin GAA club and when not there it is off with him shooting with the local gun club

Cows, trees, family life, shooting and the GAA -where does he find the time?

"I get myself organised. I organise my lifestyle. It is not a challenge. When I hear about farmers working at 10 o 'clock at night - apart from during the calving season - I just don't get it," he says.

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