Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

My Week: 'Farming is like putting money into a charity box'

Pat O'Donaghue, Ennistymon, Co Clare

Pat O’Donaghue with his children Cathal and Ashling at home on his Dairy Farm near Ennistymon, Co Clare. Photo: Eamon Ward
Pat O’Donaghue with his children Cathal and Ashling at home on his Dairy Farm near Ennistymon, Co Clare. Photo: Eamon Ward

Ken Whelan

Pat O'Donaghue is blunt when it comes to the economics of farming in the west and is frank about the efforts of the present Government to address the financial and structural problems which farmers face in the region.

"It's not a question of making profits - it's a question of lessening your losses. Every day I go to work I make a loss. It's like putting money in a charity box every morning I open the gate. I know you'll say I am a complaining farmer but I can't see the gardai and teachers doing that every day they go into work," he says.

Pat (46) is milking 50 Jersey cows on his 100 acre home farm with 50 further acres rented in Ennistymon in Co Clare supplying milk for Kerry for 28c/l. To tackle his day to day farm losses this year he has reduced his herd from 60 and has temporarily reverted to once-a-day milking.

"Farming is costing the farmer money no matter what system is being used. When the creamery cheque arrives you get your head above water to take a gulp of air but you know the next day there will be a queue of people knocking at your door with bills," he explains.

For the moment he intends to keep to once-a-day milking system and will review the situation in the new year when he expects milk price to improve.

At the moment, all he sees are additional costs and while grateful for the lift in the weather in the Clare region over the past 10 days, he predicts there could be a shortage of fodder in the region over the winter unless the weather gods dispense an immediate good hand to his farming colleagues in the region.

"All I am hearing at the moment is the noise of slurry tankers in the fields in advance of this week's slurry deadline but the fodder problem, which is likely to occur, was caused by the weather throughout the year. The fields are drying at the moment but they are not dry," he explains.

"To give you an example of the fodder situation in the west, I met a farmer in Dingle recently who still has to take a second cut. He got 175 bales on his first cut and only has 45 bales left. He has made three attempts to start a second cut but so far has been unsuccessful. Time is running out for him now so he faces problems with fodder for his herd over the winter," Pat said.

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Pat is married to Eilish, a school teacher in Lisdoonvarna and the couple have six young children - Roisín (16), Diarmuid (14), Ashling (12), Cathal (9), Padraig (6) and Niall (3) - all of whom help around the farm.

"The milk reading man will not come to the farm unless Diarmuid is here because Diarmuid knows every cow and knows what they are up to," Pat laughs.

Before taking over the family farm in the 90s Pat, in his own words "saw the world as a radio officer with the Dutch merchant fleet".

"Satellite communications were not as widespread then so radio officers were needed on trips to Africa and the southern hemisphere," he remembers.

So I ask what about the Budget and how the Government is helping in the agri-sector and back comes the answer with a precision of a radio officer sending out an urgent message while ploughing through the Straits of Madagascar.

"They could have restored the disadvantaged area payments they took off the farmers.

"That would have been worth over E1,000 to hard pressed farmers in the west," said Pat.

"And it seems to me that the recent European aid to subsidise farmer loans is just another subsidy for the banks. A farmer already under pressure with his loans is not going to get through the doors of the banks under this scheme."

Indo Farming

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