Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 July 2018

'Ploughing is more popular than hurling around here'

World reversible 3rd placed ploughman John Whelan, Wexford with his son Padraig (4). Photo: Alf Harvey/
World reversible 3rd placed ploughman John Whelan, Wexford with his son Padraig (4). Photo: Alf Harvey/

Ken Whelan

The last thing that World Ploughing Championship medallist John Whelan needs to see is a VAT demand from Revenue as he makes the transition from being a tillage farmer of years standing to the dairy sector.

What seemed a good idea when the market for barley went over a cliff a few years ago has turned a little bumpy but like any good ploughman, he is going to plough on regardless.

John farms 250ac at Gusserane about 10 miles from New Ross and, during his tillage days, he built up some reputation in the field in the reversible class.

"It's pure ploughing territory. Ploughing is more popular than hurling around here. It's all tillage and vegetables here," says John, with Eamonn Treacy another ploughing champion living in the neighbouring county.

He is riding the crest of a furrow at the moment after winning silver at last year's World Championships and also winning European and Irish titles in the reversible ploughing discipline

Next up are this year's World Ploughing Championships in York next September followed by the National Ploughing Championships in Tullamore where his 16-year-old son, Stephen, will be making his debut in the junior classes.

But that's the pastime - the full-time occupation is the dairy herd of over 200 high EBI 'black and whites' who produce around 1.1m litres of milk for Glanbia.

John began working with his uncle when he left school and while they always had some livestock at Gusserane the enterprise was pure tillage until it simply wasn't making sufficient profits to persevere with barley.

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Just before milk quotas were abolished, the Whelans decided to switch to dairy and the farm went from 200ac under barley to 100ac and then to 20ac over three years.

Meanwhile, the dairy herd increased from 40 cows to 100 to over 200 as the transition unfolded.

The investment on the farm has been substantial and is continuing with a new 20 unit milking parlour, new roadways, a water and soil testing systems. There are also more cubicles and tank space to come.

"I hope I've done the right thing," says John.

"It's not an easy road we are on what with the milk prices being depressed and likely to be depressed for some time to come."

Since the transition from barley to milk, John has seen his milk price drop from 30c/l to 24.5c/l.

"Glanbia could do more. The co-ops are getting their margin and the supermarkets are getting their margin but the primary producer isn't", he says.

The 42-year-old is married to Margaret, who is a nurse, and they have four children: Stephen, the ploughing champion to be "and a great lad with the cows and calves"; Sean (11), Katie (9) and four-year-old Padraig (pictured).

So what about the VAT situation, I ask.

"Well it will have to be paid but the Minister for Agriculture should do something for farmers who change their enterprise," says John.

Indo Farming