'The lights are going out': Farmer says something must be done to encourage young people to return to mountain farming

Fintan Mullakey , Tubbercurry Co Sligo pictured with his daughter Ava. Photo: Brian Farrell
Fintan Mullakey , Tubbercurry Co Sligo pictured with his daughter Ava. Photo: Brian Farrell

Ken Whelan

The Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, should take the "fear out of farming" and lighten up on red tape and regulation from his department, according to young Sligo farmer, Fintan Mullarkey, who says "everywhere you go you meet farmers who are afraid to do anything in case it lands them in trouble with the Department".

It's a crystal clear message from the suckler and mountain sheep farmer who also works as an AI man with Progressive Genetics in his home area and helps with the finishing of Angus cattle for a neighbour producing beef for the Larry Goodman companies.

And while Minister Creed is at it, Fintan says, he could re-balance the farm payment system in favour of farmers who work in the disadvantaged areas and he could do something to encourage young farmers to return to mountain farming.

"I love walking the hills with the dog and collecting the sheep but all I see these days are houses which once belonged to sheep farmers which are now derelict because the original farmers have died. Where I am speaking to you now there are three old houses which once belonged to sheep farmers but they have nobody in them. The lights are going out in the Ox Mountains," the 30-year-old said.

Fintan went into a farm partnership arrangement with his dad Roger Francis three years ago having worked on the 100-acre home farm outside Tubbercurry since he graduated with a degree in agriculture and environmental management from GMIT in Galway in his twenties. He was the natural farm partnership choice as his brother Stephen "got the travelling bug" and has now fetched up as a teacher in Sweden after spending time pursuing his career of choice in Korea, the Isle of Man, Australia and Britain. His younger sibling Conor is a carpenter and is working with a house insulation company in the West.

Married to Jenny (30) the couple have three children - Jack (9), Ava (3) and Anna (2).

The Mullarkeys run a herd of 15 sucklers and have a flock of 120 sheep on the hills.

Things are going well pricewise at the moment with good prices achieved recently for the weanlings and the same with the sheep, especially the light lambs at Ballina mart. "I got €800 and €820 for two head of cattle at the mart recently.

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"They were in a batch of eight and they all got good prices."

Ever the workers, Fintan and wife Jenny intend to go relief milking in the springtime at Jenny's brother-in-law's farm nearby.

"The brother-in-law - Sean O'Donavan - is expanding his herd of Holsteins with Jersey crosses. It's all work, work, work," sighs Fintan.

When asked which of the farming disciplines is his favourite, he replies "all of them".

"I meet a lot of farmers through the AI and it's funny when I go to some of the older ones they are the most welcoming. They usually say I am the first person they have met all week and they would talk to you all day. And if you have to go back later in the week they'll say the last man I was talking to on the farm was you."

Off farm Fintan's sole interest is set dancing with a capital S and a capital D. "I met Jenny through the set dancing and social dancing and whenever I get the time I go to my local Joe Dan's for a pint and some singing and dancing. I actually teach the set dancing to locals who are interested in it."

In conversation with Ken Whelan

Indo Farming

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