BY JOHN SEXTON
THERE was huge interest in the recent open day on the Shinagh Estates’ Gurteen Farm when an estimated 600 farmers from all over County Cork and beyond attended.
The main focus of the event for the occasion was the development of share farming as carried out on this farm. In an address of welcome to all present, the chairman of Shinagh Estates, James O’Donovan said that this is a demonstration farm and the aim is to demonstrate the issues related to share farming in operating a dairy herd.
‘We financed the conversion of a drystock farm with no facilities (other than a cattle crush) to the dairy farm you see here today. There are, in effect, two separate projects involved here: one is to see the costs of converting a drystock farm to dairying and number two is the operation of a share farming arrangement.
The farm is in its second year of operation and they have a great working relationship with the share farmer John Sexton (not yours truly!). Staff members from the various Teagasc offices spoke at the different stands along the farm and a general handout, covering all aspects of the operation, was available on the day.
In a question and answer session from the platform, conducted by John McNamara in his own inimitable way¸ speakers included Karen O’Connell (Darrara College), who gave a comprehensive review of the Level 5, Level 6 and Level 7 courses available at the College for those pursuing a career in farming, Gus O’Brien (Shinagh); Donal Whelton (AIB) and William Kingston.
Share farmer John Sexton gave a comprehensive outline of his farming activities during the past few years also. From a fragmented farm in Donoughmore in North Cork, he went to New Zealand, on the advice of William Kingston, after he studied for two years for a Level 6 Certificate in Dairy Herd Management at Darrara Agricultural College. Teagasc advisers to the Gurteen Farm, Gráinne Hurley and John McNamara, have been most helpful to John at all times.
For John, it was the two years in New Zealand which really gave him the confidence to go back to Ireland to set up his own farming business. One-third of the 12,000 dairy farmers in New Zealand are operated via different share farming models so John got a chance to learn first-hand from people who were share farming themselves. He saw the principle of share farming as a win-win arrangement and believed it would be possible to do so in Ireland will milk quota removal.
Share farming is a new collaborative farming structure to Ireland and wasn’t possible during the milk quota regime. The core principle is that the landowner will provide the land and infrastructure (milking parlour, wintering facilities, roadways) for dairying, while the share farmer will provider all or some of the livestock. Machinery can be provided by either party.
This farm at Gurteen is owned by Shinagh Estates, which in turn is owned by the four West Cork co-ops. It was a wise move of the board if Shinagh to convert the 300-acre-plus farm into a dairy enterprise seven years ago and maintain co-op ownership.