Aran also works full-time on the farm following agricultural college and is at least the fourth generation to do so. Darryl is studying to be an actuary at UCD, while Inez has just finished transition year in Schull Community College.
Violet manages their B&B and self-catering accommodation, while Richard also works from home as an agri-consultant for Owen O’Driscoll & Associates, Skibbereen. Despite being a hive of activity, there is a peaceful atmosphere at the family home and B&B, Fortview House.
The farm comprises 130 acres with an additional, neighbouring, 30 acres rented. The additional land and the abolition of the milk quota allowed Richard and Aran to recently increase their cow herd from 75 to 100. ‘The neighbouring land would have been no advantage up to now, it’s a big advantage now going forward.’
They also have dry stock and followers, so the farm is fragmented having three main strands. In looking to the future and, in light of the expansion, Richard and Aran have a farm partnership agreement in place.
Richard believes it’s a good time to be starting out. ‘There are good opportunities now for young farmers with the new rural development programme to get grant aid.’ The new five-year programme will see priority given to young farmers.
Although optimistic about the future, he acknowledges expansion brings its own challenges: ‘We would be worried about milk price with expansion and that we are able to market our product, so it’s tough. Expansion is something you have to be quite cautious about because there’s a big investment, so it’s something you have to do over time’.
Small farmers who cannot compete for land or get enough of a return to meet the costs of expansion may not experience these opportunities to remain in full-time farming or make the jump to full-time farming though Richard believes they are still very important to the West Cork social and cultural landscape.
His experience of farming and the challenges affecting farmers helps in Richard’s other job as an agri-consultant. His job takes up about half of his working week. The restructuring of schemes for the new five-year programme has meant a very busy time in recent months. His job covers the areas of farm planning, nitrates and payments paperwork for the Mid Cork, West Cork and South Kerry regions: ‘I enjoy working with farmers … it’s a lot easier to understand the issues on another farm when you have the experience and you can see the practical issues from your own farm.’
On the subject of farm advisory services, Richard believes ‘farmers need this service, with so many changes in department structures and so much of their income now based on form-filling that it’s totally essential, but without assistance, very hard for individuals to be up to speed with it all.’
Outside of work and family, Richard still spends his time in the arena of farming. He is the current chairman of the West Cork IFA which takes up a lot of time though his term finishes at the end of 2015. He also is the current vice-chair on the board of Drinagh Co-Op and that gives him a seat on the board of the Carbery Group. Whether working with farmers, for farmers or on his own farm, it is clear that Richard has a passion and energy for farming life in West Cork. He feels it is a great way of life, working in nature, being your own boss and working to help other farmers.