Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

'Farmers are in trouble and I can see them giving up'

My week: Cecil Fairman

Cecil Fairman
Cecil Fairman

Ken Whelan

The farmers of the north west are in "dire straits" because of the crash in prices across the dairy, beef and tillage sectors over the past year and many will go out of business unless something is done quickly by the Government, Cecil Fairman, a dairy farmer in Trennamullin, outside Ballybofey, predicts.

"It's all very stressful. A lot of people are in trouble with the banks and I can see some of them giving up sooner rather than later. You have a situation where farmers are selling stock to stay afloat and the income from these sales is then taxed the following year because the sales are regarded as farm income," says the 68-year-old.

And the 22c/l basic payment he is receiving for his milk from Aurivo is way off a price which would make dairy farming viable in a region which has a six-month production cycle because of the weather, he adds.

"Even the Bord Bia idea of a sustainable price of 26c/l is completely unsustainable," he stresses.

Cecil likes to enumerate his farm costs by historical references. "I remember my father, Ernest, selling a calf years ago and saying he'd have to put one old pound and 10 shillings to the sale price to buy a fill of 300 gallons of diesel. The last time I got a similiar fill the cost was the equivalent of selling five or six calves."

Cecil runs a herd of 80 British Friesians on his 130ac of owned and rented land, having changed from Holsteins in the mid 90s.

"The Holsteins were milk factories but they didn't have the engines or suspensions for dairy farming up here. Their feet and legs were the problem and they grew too tall and boney. We were forever changing the size of the cubicles when we had the Holsteins. We have no regrets in changing the herd breed," he says.

Cecil has been in the milk business all his life but, along with his wife Anne, a retired lecturer from Letterkenny IT, they will have to wait and see if eldest son, Richard, who is currently working on a farm business programme, will continue the farming tradition in the family. Or maybe another son, Christopher, or daughter, Leah, who is working in HR in London.

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"I wouldn't be encouraging them at the moment", Cecil sighs.

But the likelihood is that the Fairmans will persevere if only because of the family's connection with the land.

The home farm has been in the family since 1860 when a great, great grandfather bought the holding for 100 old pounds. "Big money at the time," says Cecil. "And for his trouble, he had to deal with the henchmen of the previous owner demanding the farm back every time he cut down a tree on the land."

In more recent years - and in a timely reminder of what the Brexit negotiations might produce - he remembers his father smuggling bull calves through a hard border from the North.

"That was the time when the border was there and he'd smuggle the calves in the boot of his car. That was the way it was done and it didn't do the calves any harm at all," he remembers. It seems to Cecil that Britain will be out of the European Union before the Government or farm organisations do anything about the collapse in prices.

It also seems to him that everyone in agriculture from the supermarkets, factories, co-ops, farm organsations and the Government itself are living on very comfortable salaries and pensions on the back of agriculture. Everyone, that is, except the primary producer - the farmer.

So I ask him about his hobbies: "I have none - I am a farmer," he replies, but admits to watching the Olympics.

"The boxers are having a bad time at the moment but we have the athletes to come. Shane McGonnigal, a local man is in charge of the athletics team and there's a great local interest in athletics here. We have a great track and, of course, we have the soccer team."

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