THE unprecedented cancellation, for safety reasons, of the second day of the National Ploughing Championships was symbolic of the torrid year that farmers and agriculture in general have endured, with the past 11 months bringing the remains of a hurricane and a snow storm, followed by a heatwave and drought, causing a series of fodder shortages. However, it was evident at the 4th annual West Cork Farming Awards on Sunday last that, despite all that nature has thrown at them, local farmers are a resilient bunch, intent on carrying on regardless of this and other challenges, such as Brexit, that face them in the future.
Bord Bia CEO, Clonakilty’s Tara McCarthy, spoke of the uncertainty that still surrounds Brexit. It has been that way since the day that the UK electorate voted for Britain to leave the European Union and there is little sign of any clarity on the horizon in the immediate future.
While Bord Bia seek out more market opportunites internationally for Irish food products, the immediate priority for farmers is to get through the coming winter without adding excessively to their inputs. Dairy farmers are helped in West Cork by being paid the top milk prices in the country by the four co-ops that own the Carbery Group, but this is being offset by inevitably-higher fodder costs.
The West Cork Farming Awards once again illustrated the quality of the operators across the West Cork region. Sustainability is the big buzzword at the moment and Bandon Co-Op supplier Vanessa Kiely-O’Connor, from Upton, won this category for her consistency in quality milk production, taking advantage of technology to keep on top of her farming system in order to achieve maximum, sustainable profitability.
The same applies to West Cork Dairy Farmer of the Year, Enniskeane’s Cyril Draper, also a Bandon supplier, and having been part of the Carbery Greener Dairy Programme, he incorporates a strong environmental ethos into his practices, including soil management. The Young Farmer of the Year, Tim Crowley from Carey’s Cross near Bandon, who milks 110 cows in partnership with his father, Dan, is no stranger to awards, having last year won the national Young Grassland Farmer of the Year title.
Keeping up the high standards on the drystock side, as part of the Teagasc Better Farm Scheme, is sheep farmer Denis O’Riordan, Coosane, Bantry, who tends his flock across a massive 260 hectares of mountainous land above the Borlin Valley. For a lifetime of dedicated campaigning for the rights and entitlements of hill sheep farmers, the Hall of Fame award went to 82-year-old Joe Kelly from Eyeries.
A new award this year was a special judges’ one for Outstanding Achievement in the Farming Community. It went to Harold Kingston of Courtmacsherry, who went public about the mental health difficulties the harsh winter created for him. Having sought help himself, he became an advocate on social media, encouraging farmers who might feel isolated, and perhaps overwhelmed, not to be afraid to talk to somebody – preferably a doctor – about it and not to be ashamed about seeking help.
Farming is not an easy life at times, but the vast majority of farmers will still tell you that they would never give it up unless they were forced to by circumstances outside of their control. Their resilience is admirable and we are glad to be able to acknowledge just some of those in West Cork who are outstanding in their fields – bad pun intended!