Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

Making hay while the sun shines: new generation of Irish farmers

It is not all plain-sailing, but for these young people farming is more than a job, says Joanna Kiernan

Dairy farmer Aoife Ladd pictured on her family farm in Castletownroche, Co. Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision.
Dairy farmer Aoife Ladd pictured on her family farm in Castletownroche, Co. Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision.
William Morris pictured on his family's dairy farm near Ballydehob, Co Cork. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

Farming has witnessed something of a resurgence in recent years, particularly among the younger generations. After all the excesses of the Celtic Tiger, farming has emerged as a more organic, no-nonsense, honest-to-goodness profession. In short, you get out of it what you put into it.

But it's no easy number, for every ounce of freedom and variety you get, there are also long hours, tough weather conditions and huge responsibilities to contend with.

William Morris (31) is a dairy farmer from Ballydehob, Co Cork. He has been running his family's farm for the last ten years since his parents retired.

"My father stepped back when I started to take over, so I've had a clear run of it," William explains.

"It wasn't always something I wanted to do to be honest. When I finished my Leaving Cert I had no interest in anything else, so I just applied for farming courses and when I got to college I just fell in love with it. It was an accident in a way."

The freedom involved in farming is William's favourite part of the job.

"You have control of your own destiny unlike with other jobs," he says. "The buck stops with you. If I do something, I will get a result and can take the credit if it goes right. Instead of working for someone else, I know that if I put in the work, I will get the rewards, and if I don't put in the work, I will suffer the consequences. I love the responsibility and the freedom that gives you."

"I love the job more than anything," William adds. "You can always have bad days, but luckily for me, the good days are outnumbering the bad ones."

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William became a farmer at a time when many of his peers were entering construction.

"It was different then, but there is a very positive vibe in farming now. It's not looked at as a poor choice of career anymore," he explains.

"Particularly with dairy at the moment, there is huge potential for the country to expand and for young people to become involved in the industry. There is a lot of work involved in farming, but there are a lot of opportunities in the area too. In dairy at the moment, there is huge scope for making a profitable living."

However, William admits the long hours and gruelling work involved has taken its toll on his love life.

"You get out of it what you put into it," he says. "I was talking to another farmer, who gave me a great perspective on it - he said he was taking 'the Rory McIlroy approach' at the moment because he's achieving more now that he's single," William laughs.

"So that's what I am doing and I want to achieve as much as I can while I'm young. So I'm putting a lot more work and energy into the farm at this stage to grow it," William adds.

Rob Hall (25) from Rathnew, Co Wicklow, runs his family's dry stock sheep and beef farm with his father, who inherited it from his father, as did his father before that. For Rob, keeping the family farm going is a huge source of pride.

"I always wanted to end up farming," he tells me. "You see some people, who never had an interest in farming, going back to their family's farms now, especially from the building sites. It's nice to see, because I presume when parents work all of their lives on a farm and their children don't share an interest in it, it hurts them."

Farming has always been a passion for Rob, but it is no nine-to-five. "You're always outdoors and you're not stuck in the same place, it's something different every day."

"The disadvantages would definitely be the long hours. Most of the time you wouldn't mind, but if you want to go away there is always something that pops up.

"We have often organised holidays and something will happen at the last minute and you'd have to cancel at the last minute, but that's all part of it."

However, the perks outshine the inconvenience of anti-social hours. "When the weather is good it's very enjoyable, you're not stuck in an office," Rob explains. "I know some people would rather be at the beach, but sometimes being out in a field is just as good.

"I always try and take Sundays off and have that as a family day or a break. You are married to the job, but you have to have some time to yourself."

Aoife Ladd (22), from Castletownroche, Co Cork, has been working on her parents' dairy farm since the age of 14.


"It wasn't forced upon me or anything but when I was 14, during the summer of second year, just before going into my Junior Certificate, my father got sick for a while and I took over the milking and more of the work because he was in hospital and out of work," Aoife explains. "After that, I got more involved, but I knew at that stage it was what I wanted to do."

After completing her Leaving Certificate, Aoife studied in Clonakilty Agricultural College for two years, before returning to work on the family farm full time, where her work includes the milking of their 60-strong herd, twice a day.

"Going back maybe 10 or 15 years ago, the numbers going to agricultural colleges were fairly slack and there was even talk of closing down one or two," Aoife tells me. "But the numbers now are huge, they are surpassing the places they have and they can't actually take all of the students.

"You have to love what you are doing," she says. "If you don't like another job you might be OK because you might only do from 9am to 5pm, so you can pull through, but with farming and particularly with dairy farming you don't have a nine to five day.

"I don't take any notice of the amount of hours I actually do, unless someone points it out to me," she smiles. "You don't mind doing it because you enjoy it." Aoife is not bothered by the fact that farming is still quite a male-dominated profession.

"Even when I was in college there were 100 people in the class and there were three girls," she laughs.

"Personally, I don't take any notice of it. It doesn't bother me. Farming can be fairly physical, but there are means and ways around things too.

"To a certain extent though I think that women were always doing some bits in farming but they just weren't acknowledged," she adds.

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