Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

'There is still a huge opportunity in dairying'

Jamie Costin on the family farm in Ring,
Co Waterford
Jamie Costin on the family farm in Ring, Co Waterford
Jamie Costin with his wife Zuzana and their son Tiarnach
Jamie Costi in action during the Men's 50km Walk Fina at the 2008 Beijing OLympics

LESSONS learned from his time as a professional athlete have stood to dairy farmer Jamie Costin since he took over the family farm in Ring, Co Waterford four years ago.

The former walker who represented Ireland at three Olympic Games, has handled success, victory and disappointment and even came back from a devastating back injury.

Now he and his wife Zuzana, a fellow Olympic athlete, are looking forward to a bright and busy future, bringing up their baby son, Tiarnach, whom they welcomed three months ago.

In 2012, aged 35, Jamie retired and came home to take over the reins from his mum and dad, Margaret and Jimmy.

"I was trying to qualify for the London Games and it didn't work out," he says.

"It was one of those things that doesn't happen in life. I was always going to retire after London anyway and I had given a commitment to come back home.

"At that stage myself and Zuzi were together four or five years and we were planning on getting married," he says of his Slovakian wife, whom he met in Krakow over 10 years ago.

In May that year Jamie took over the family farm. He had never lost touch with home even at the height of his sporting career.

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"My season would have involved racing from January to September, then a break for a month before you started training again, so I would have been home in Ireland for most of September, October and November milking cows or doing a bit of grass measuring or whatever.

"I'd always been involved in some way or another," he says.

Sadly, Jamie's mum passed away last year and though retired, dad Jimmy is still his first port of call when he needs advice.

"My father took over the farm when he was very young, only 13, because his father was ill," he added.

"He started off with seven cows and about 80 to 100 acres of rocky land.

"By the time I came back in 2012 there was 160 cows and that 100 acres was after being multiplied to 320.

"Here in Ring some of the land can be very rocky with

very shallow soil, so he spent a lot of years improving the farm and bringing it up to a place where it was a fantastic opportunity and a pleasure to come back and take over the reins from them."

Their milking platform is about 60ha and now he's up to 250 cows and the immediate plans are to improve infrastructure.

Like all farmers, the Costin farm has had a tough year but Jamie remains optimistic about the future. "It's a buyers' market at the minute and we're unfortunately just stuck in a situation but it's going to be cyclical for the next while, more so than it was before.

"Once the EU stopped supporting milk prices and the decision was made for quotas to go, you can see the volatility that has come into the market since and we will have more of that in the future," he said.

"In 1984 my father was told this is how much milk you can produce and for 31 years that was the law and you could only produce that amount or you were fined. Everything changed in April 2015 and the price is fairly low at the moment and a lot of people who have expanded are under a lot of pressure.

"But I still think there's huge opportunity in dairying because of the climate we have and the grass-based system which is the cheapest way of producing milk and it's the highest quality milk.

"That's a huge positive for Irish farming moving forward. We're going through a tough couple of years now. Last year wasn't so bad but this year and next year are going to be the big pinch on people."

Jamie describes all hard times as being relative and he should know.

In 2004, weeks before he was due to compete at the Athens Olympics, he fractured his back following a road accident.

"That period of my life was fairly intense and significant and it took a long time to recover," he recalls.

"But I was 27 years of age and already an established athlete so I had the support of the best medics in the country to help me recover. It was difficult but I had great support.

"When I was 19 there was no real support for young athletes when I was trying to qualify for an Olympic Games and to be honest, that was nearly a tougher time."

Bad as it was, he says it also helped him learn a lot about himself and the power of letting other people help.

"My mother was cooking me dinner for six months afterwards. I was a 27-year-old man and I couldn't do anything for myself and I had the whole family, my father and sisters as well, looking after me.

"I had great support of people around me to help me get back to Olympic Games level as an athlete again."

Looking towards the future, Jamie is trying to maximise the potential of the farm and put in the infrastructure to take them where they want to be.

"We're renting around 100ac but that can come and go so you've got to be flexible.

"But everyone is in a whole new era and I've about three to five year's work to get our farm up to speed and with a newborn baby that will also keep us fairly occupied," he says.

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