THE definition of the family farm will be the catalyst in defining its own future as ‘everything changes over time’ according to former Cork county councillor and Courtmacsherry farmer, John O’Sullivan.
Farming some 100 acres since 1999 he has a keen grasp of what is needed for the survival of rural communities. The fact that he has experience of several different occupations in his own life serves to add credence to his assertions.
The dairy farm at Ardcoohig is a legacy of several generations: Married to Deirdre, the next generation of O’Sullivan’s – Ted (9) Lily (8) and Liam (6) – are very much part of the their life outside of farming.
Milking some 85 cows, selling replacement pedigree heifers, breeding stock, there is about 150 cattle all together on the farm – all in a day’s work.
When asked what are the real issues, John’s reply was two-fold: ‘The availability of land and labour and labour capability are the big issues – you have to run a system that is practical and suits the situation.’
He added: ‘There must be re-think amongst farmers and landowners, particularly around this area, of swapping to try and consolidate land blocks. It is something that has to be considered – how soon – I don’t know. The view is beginning to emerge and it will take some time, as to what extent it will happen, will depend on neighbours.’
Views, aside from the scenic and tranquil surroundings, are easily attainable from John, who was elected to Cork County Council in 2009 (taking the fourth of seven seats) and served a full term and part thereof as Deputy Mayor.
It comes as no surprise that technology is very much part of his daily life. ‘We have to embrace technology and work with it, if we don’t we are going to get lost, simple as that.’ A firm believer in the online systems, he quipped: ‘Fantastic, a mistake is seen immediately and its sorted, like I said, we just have to embrace technology.’
However, nothing is perfect, the role of Farm Advisory Services such as Teagasc isn’t ideal. Pointing out that he uses his own advisor, he opined: ‘I’m quite concerned that it (Teagasc) is single-focussed rather that helping the farmer. As such the advisory service is focussed on the research, but not on individual needs of the situation.
‘I think that has to change. There’s been a lot of private agricultural consultants and they have taken over a big portion of that farm advisory service.’ He added: ‘Teagasc in my view is the research organisation, they do a lot of support for discussion groups and all that. The specialist farmer whether they are beef or dairy – a significant number of them are employing private consultants for advice.
He derives great satisfaction from his lifestyle: ‘I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. You are your own boss, you make your own decisions and they make your income at the end of the day. Being out in the fine weather is a fantastic way of life, maybe the winter time is a bit tough, but I suppose we also have to embrace the weather.’ Uncertainty and price volatility are the worrying aspects of farming. ‘Planning ahead is difficult in those terms.’
It is a future that is not all that clear and here’s the reason why: ‘We will have to wait and see the outcome of the climate change talks and what they are going to implement. I would hope, for the sake of rural communities, that there has to be a future for the family farm.’
His reasoning is based on hindsight. ‘If you go back a generation ago, the larger family farm had employed labour, maybe we have got to get to a stage that we scale up enough to be able to do that.
Other than life as a county councillor, John has also sampled employment on a
nearby strawberry farm, Bandon Mart, Barryroe Co-Op, Cattle Breeders Service and the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (IHFA). He has and continues to be involved in a myriad of voluntary organisations and is a director of various companies.
So, is there any spare time? ‘We have a young family and that takes a lot of attention. We have got them involved in shows; recently we took them to a calf show and they were all glee and excitement.’
As for farming as a career, he had this to say: ‘Yes, but only if you are interested in it.’
Given the political climate and the proximity of a general election John had little trouble identifying the issues that are likely to dominate: ‘Flooding and health.
The health system is going to be a big issue. Despite the fact that it is carrying out several thousands of extra procedures, it is still getting bottlenecked.
‘The slow rate of roll-out of primary care centres is still clogging up the A&Es. We should separate the level of A&E treatment of people particularly on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night’s alcohol-related incidents – they are not population illnesses, they are self-inflicted and are causing a bottleneck in the system.’
As for a merger of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, he said: ‘We need to keep a strong government and, if that means a merger between FG and FF, I have no difficulty with that. It is important to continue the recovery.
‘If it happens it will change politics for the next 50 to 100 years.’ In his own words, ‘Everything changes over time.’