independent

Tuesday 17 September 2019

'We just want to live'

Beef farmer Mattie White on his farm in Carrig On Bannow
Beef farmer Mattie White on his farm in Carrig On Bannow

Mattie White's eight-acre farm in Bannow Bay has been in the family for more than 200 years, passed down from one generation to the next, the land and the animals upon it cared for, nurtured, season in, season out.

Mattie himself has worked on that land, tended to its livestock, almost since the time he could walk.

But he, like all other beef farmers in the country, is now living hand to mouth, barely keeping his head above water as the fruits of his labour continue to diminish.

Last year the farm turned a profit of €6,000, which, when compared to the €1,500 made the year before, was a moderate success.

The problems, according to Mattie, emanate from the Government and spread from there; the lack of protection, lack of legislation, enabling factories and supermarkets to take the lion's share of the profit while doing the least amount of work.

And this struggle to survive, this daily pressure to make ends meet, is having a huge impact on those at the heart of the issue.

'It's ridiculous. We're not asking for something impossible, we just want to live. The Government are playing with people's lives. Last year it was reported that there were 23 farmers who committed suicide, but I think the real figure was probably higher,' says Mattie.

Candid about his own mental health struggles, Mattie believes those in power view farmers like him as 'facts and figures' and says recent protests and pickets are born out of desperation.

'We shouldn't have to be out protesting,' he says, 'but the country is in trouble and we need to stand up to it and stop this. This is no longer just about the farming community, it's about coming together and stopping the corruption.

'This farm is our heritage, it's all we know. I can see this country going into a depression within 3 years, a depression, not a recession, because of this.'

Christy Comerford, whose farm is situated in Clara, County Kilkenny, has been one of those on the frontline during the recent protests in Bunclody and Grannagh, and he says he's willing to go as far as it takes to have his voice heard.

'We have nothing to lose at this stage, I'd go to jail over this I don't care. We're getting nothing for the last 20 years, we're being bullied, I was at one of the protests a night last week and there was 20 people there, by the morning they'd been removed.'

And although the protests have, thus far, been taking place outside meat processing plants, Christy thinks the other main beneficaries in this equation need to take their share of their blame too.

'The supermarkets are getting away with robbery, it's daylight robbery. We've to breed that animal, we're basically working for nothing,' he says.

Christy's farm has, like Mattie's, been in the family for aeons, but he doesn't envisage another generation of Comerford's tending to the land once his working days come to an end.

'There's no future to hand on the land to the next generation. I've three young children and I'd find it hard to push them into it. They'd be better off going and getting an education.

'I'm really only doing it for the love of it at this stage. The Government want to push people out of rural areas into the towns. But there's nowhere like the country, farming is a good way of life when it's going well,' he says.

This theme, that of men up in arms who keep farming because they love what they do, is a common one among the farming community.

'People ask me, "why don't you get out?"' Mattie says. 'But I'm nearly 50 years old, I've been doing this 46 years; it's tough, there's long hours and it can be hardship, but I love it. All my animals have names, when them animals go I'll stand in the yard and cry. It's not just about money, my love of farming comes from being able to work with animals.'

Admitting that farmers will often find to it hard to agree 'on the colour of wallpaper', Mattie says that, when push comes to shove, they all row in together.

'In March of this year a cow fell on me and I snapped my ankle, my wife Jackie rang two or three farmers within the area and ten minutes later they were in my yard ready to help. When push comes to shove they'll have your back, they might not agree on the colour of wallpaper but if you need a favour they'll have your back every day of your life,' he said.

Gorey Guardian

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