Farm Ireland

Sunday 20 January 2019

'I have been at farming protests since I was a kid'


Ciaran McDonnell
Ciaran McDonnell

Ciaran McDonnell is bringing agricultural activism to new levels - he started out by jumping on the family tractor at Dáil milk price protests at the age of 16, before moving on to become one of the youngest county chairman of the ICMSA at the age of 21.

"We're a very political family and I have been at farming protests regularly since I was a kid," the now 23-year-old says.

Ciaran is an only son, his sister Aoife is training as a nurse in Britain, and he has just completed a farm partnership agreement with his dad Seamus at the 50-hectare home farm at Knockbridge on the Carrickmacross Road outside Dundalk, Co Louth. There they produce an average of some 6,200 litres per cow annually for Glanbia from their herd of 50 Holsteins.

Ciaran is happy with the current 40c/l milk price which the Knockbridge enterprise is getting for its product but points out that Glanbia is lagging behind Kerry, Arrabawm and Lakelands at the moment when bonuses are included.

He is adapting a steady-as-you-go attitude to the partnership but rules out any imminent expansion at the enterprise - mainly because of the escalating cost of land in the Co Louth region.

This is probably wise considering the amount of work the young farmer has on his plate. Busy would be an understatement in Ciaran's case.

The UCD agricultural science graduate is also doing research work on farm stocking rates and how to profitably improve them on smaller farms at the Lyons estate in west Dublin.

This research work, he hopes, could be a stepping stone to a master's degree or even a PhD.

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"It's a two-and-a-half hour commute to the Lyons estate during the week and then it's back to the farm every evening and weekends. It's busy," Ciaran says.

Since becoming the ICMSA chairman, he has campaigned for the Government to introduce an income volatility management tool to help farmers regulate their income in good and bad years.

A farmer to claim a tax deduction for farm management deposits in the income tax year in which they are made, farmers would then be able to avail of these funds in the farm management deposit account to support the farm business in the event of a downturn.

"If a farmer made a profit of ¤40,000 on his enterprise in a good year, he should be able to set aside at least ¤15,000 at a lower rate of tax to protect himself financially whenever the milk price drops," Ciaran points out.

"The previous minister for finance Michael Noonan was warm to the idea but new Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has so far yet to commit to the idea," Ciaran explains.

The Government and the Agriculture Department could also commit to paying their bills on time, he adds, before listing the payment difficulties all farmers are experiencing on schemes like TAMS and GLAS; they could also lessen the burden of red tape, he emphasises.

Fly fishing

At the moment, Ciaran has very little time for his off-farm activities, which include fly fishing and tug of war.

The fishing came naturally to him as the McDonnell farm adjoins a lake and the River Fane meanders through the holding.

Ciaran took sufficient interest in the fly fishing to be able to represent Ireland in the European championships in Scotland and England when he was a teenager, achieving a silver medal in the English competition and finishing fourth in Scotland.

Similarly, his Mountainview Tug of War team won bronze in an international club championship when he was 19. "I have been doing neither for the past few years but intend to get back into these sports when the time allows," says the young farmer.

But time is likely to be key in Ciaran's case given his intention to pursue a higher university degree, develop the family farm and he also intends to stand again for the chairmanship of Co Louth ICMSA.

In conversation with Ken Whelan

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