'I'd like to see civil servants working 80 hours a week in all weathers'


Billy O'Callaghan on his farm in near Carrick-on-Suir. Photo: Patrick Browne
Billy O'Callaghan on his farm in near Carrick-on-Suir. Photo: Patrick Browne

Ken Whelan

In advance of Storm Callum making landfall in Waterford , Billy O'Callaghan was preparing to batten down the hatches when we spoke.

He had also just completed the prep work on one of his barley fields and was digging out the foundations for a new shed at his farm near Carrick-on-Suir.

The 52-year-old, who runs a dairy, beef and tillage enterprise on his 297-acre farm at Feddans near Rathgormack, in partnership with his brother John, is exasperated by this year's weather.

Despite having around 50 acres under tillage to provide fodder, the O'Callaghans have still had to buy in 50t of feed so far this year for the herd.

Billy and John milk 90 British Friesians with some Holstein crosses and send the product to Arrabawn. They are happy with the co-op's prices this year and particularly impressed by its pro-farmer ethos.

What Billy is not happy with is the amount of regulation and form-filling being imposed on his enterprise by Agricultural House and its many and varied semi-state affiliates, from Teagasc to Bord Bia, which he says are adding to the desk-bound hours for farmers.

He takes a "pure pro-farmer" stance on the issue, saying that farming should be left to the farmers who know what they are doing and not to well-paid civil servants who wouldn't know how to put up with the vagaries and variables of farming life.

"I would like to see them work 80 hours a week in all weathers for €2.50 an hour," he says.

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"They are more concerned about a crack in the concrete in the farmyard than about farming."

Billy is struck by the changing landscape in his region, where he says there is a decline in tillage generally.

"There was a time when you would see dairy animals on one side of the road from Waterford to Kilkenny and tillage on the other, but now all you see are the dairy animals.

"Here locally the next farmer who does his own wheat and barley growing is seven mile away and the next is another seven away."

Billy and John took over the home farm back in the '80s when their father John Snr, a cattle dealer, passed away. They run the enterprise with a little help from their mother Maud, who at 79 years of age can still be seen dusting and cleaning in the milking parlour.

Billy has mixed feelings about the Budget. He would like to have seen a reduction of capital gains tax to 20pc, which he feels could have made an impact on farming and urban housing, opening the markets to everyone's advantage.

He also believes that a 12.5pc income tax level for all farmers should have been introduced in the Budget by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.

But the main pebble in his shoe from a farming perspective is regulations - not least the idea of calendar farming, which he says can restrict farm efficiencies.

And he would like a review of countryside hedge and tree maintenance rules.

"They say they want to save the bees and then make it mandatory to cut the hedges," he points out.

Off-farm, Billy is active in the ICMSA as Waterford chairman, and likes to socialise with his partner Gemma.

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