MEMBERS of the local agricultural community last Sunday celebrated the good things about their industry, in spite of the serious challenges it currently faces, at the fifth annual West Cork Farming Awards, run by The Southern Star and the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, with special guest, RTÉ Radio 1 Countrywide presenter Damien O’Reilly, who was duly impressed.
Most West Cork farmers are involved in dairying and this sector is doing well at the moment with the four West Cork co-ops – Bandon, Barryroe, Drinagh and Lisavaird, who own the Carbery Group – paying the top milk prices in the country. However, there are always challenges, with peaks and troughs ongoing features of farming life.
At the moment, beef farmers are in the deepest of troughs and it is difficult to see how they are going to climb out of it and make their livelihoods viable again. Closing the gap between the cost of producing their cattle and the price they are getting paid for them will not be easy.
However, the resilience and dedication shown by farmers like Sean Kelleher from Newcestown, who won the Drystock Farmer of the Year award last weekend, gives hope for a better future for the sector. He has invested heavily in expanding his one-man operation to achieve maximum efficiency and, hopefully, his efforts and those of others in this sector will be properly rewarded in due course.
The Dairy Farmer of the Year award winner, Conor Murphy from near Clonakilty, is noted for the way he built up his medium-sized farm, milking 140 cows on his 140-acre holding, achieving very high milk solids. But, sensibly, he wants to keep his operation manageable and has no plans to go beyond 150 cows.
The winner of our Sustainability & Diversification award was sheep farmer Jerry O’Donoghue from Parkana, Bantry, for the diversity of activities he is involved in in his local community, but especially his embracing of social farming, in conjunction with West Cork Development Partnership. This worthwhile idea provides people using services an opportunity for inclusion, to increase their self-esteem and to improve their health and wellbeing by taking part in day-to-day activities on a family farm.
Another man who has given unselfishly of his time and talents to his local community over many years is Nealie O’Leary, currently as chairman of the Local Link rural transport initiative, which also organises the Cancer Connect service for West Cork people getting treatment in city hospitals. His many years of campaigning for farmers through his involvement with the IFA also helped make him a worthy Hall of Fame winner.
The special Judges’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Farming Community, went to West Cork Farm Tours, which was formed after a conversation between a group of farmers during the 2016 West Cork Farming Awards. Described at the time of its launch by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed as ‘visionary,’ the tours are growing in popularity and provide an important extra income stream for the four farm families involved.
Every bit helps.