NEWLY-appointed chair of Carbery Cormac O’Keeffe is looking forward to a multi-million euro makeover of Lisavaird Co-op during his three-year term.
The dairy farmer from Courleigh, Clonakilty who is also chair of Lisavaird, said the major overhaul of the mill, stores, shop and office would bring the facility into the 21st century.
The extension of the lower store was completed last year, work on the mill is underway, and plans have been submitted for new shop and offices.
In his role as Carbery chair, his ambition is to continue to make good returns for its shareholders, but going forward he predicts a potentially steadier growth rate of the milk pool.
Currently suppliers produce 600m litres a year, and production is up 50% since the abolition of quotas.
‘We have to ask if it can keep growing at that rate and what direction things will go in the future. So it will be about chasing high value markets so we can continue to pay a leading milk price,’ he said.
Cormac is a fifth generation farmer who took over from his father James in 2001. He studied in Darrara after his Leaving Cert and said there was only ever one career for him. At the time they had 40 cows, and it was a mixed dairy and beef enterprise.
‘I’ve expanded since then, finished with beef and have 120 cows; we also built new sheds and put in a new 15-unit parlour,’ he said.
Cormac admits he’s at somewhat of a crossroads in terms of expansion, because of the uncertainty of derogation.
‘I’m in derogation myself. If it goes, I will cut back what I’m doing,’ he admits.
When the opportunity to go for chair of Carbery arose he jumped at the chance to put his name in the ring, mainly as he ‘loves the business side of things.’
‘I love looking at accounts, analysing costs and maximising profitability, so I’m going to enjoy the chance to do it on a bigger scale,’ he said. ‘I’m looking forward to the challenge and think it’s important to be always challenging yourself.’
He’s acutely aware of his role in reducing his carbon emissions, and as a graduate of the Carbery Greener Farm programme, he has a diploma in environmental science.
He puts a big emphasis on biodiversity on his land, rejuvenating hedgerows and tree planting.
‘I think farmers must reposition themselves in the environmental debate. They are seen as part of the problem at the moment, which is a challenge, but we must be part of the solution. Winning back the public is a big challenge for us right now,’ he said.
Farmers must acknowledge that 33% of emissions come from agriculture, he added.
‘But I really feel there’s lots of low hanging fruit which can yield good results for farmers in achieving reductions such as using protected urea, introducing clover, better grass management, improving soil fertility and increasing EBI so there’s less need for replacements.’
He pointed to Carbery’s annual sustainability awards which highlights some of the great work being done in West Cork, and which provides inspiration to other farmers.
He welcomed the recent €2m funding boost Carbery received for their Farm Zero project and knows first-hand that farmers are actively looking for guidance on how to farm more sustainably.
‘Now that the funding is in place, we are looking forward to sharing with the farmers of the four West Cork co-ops, with our partners, and our customers, what is possible for the future of agriculture when scientists and farmers collaborate together,’ he said.
When he’s not working, Cormac enjoys mountain biking on the Wild Atlantic Way.
He’s married to Clodagh (Kingston), an Irish teacher in Clonakilty Community College. They’re parents to 16-year-old James, 14-year-old Laoise and 11-year-old Eoghan.
All three are a great help on the farm and Cormac said he’s confident that farming can offer an excellent career for today’s younger citizens.