Music-lover Carmel O’Hea, right, says her career was almost pre-destined, she tells Martin Walsh
TIMOLEAGUE farmer Carmel O’Hea lists the likes of Cold Play, Kodaline and The Coronas as just some of her favourite music. For her, the image of James Brown probably resonates more with a type of tractor rather than the man who sang, ‘This is a man’s world. But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing. Without a woman or a girl.’
It’s doubtful if Brown was referring specifically to farming where Carmel is very much in the minority, but nevertheless accepted by her fellow farmers without any pre-conditions.
She runs her own 120-acre farm in Aghafore and supplies liquid milk to Clona Dairies in Clonakilty. Farming was a career that was nearly always pre-destined given her liking for outdoor life. ‘I come from a family of five girls and I was the only one interested in farming. I suppose I always helped out – on a Saturday evening feeding calves and that sort of thing. Then in my later years in secondary school I would have done a bit more.’
‘After my Leaving Certificate I studied Agricultural Science in University College Dublin. I finished that in 2003 and I’ve been at home since then working with my parents (PJ and Ann) and I took over the running of the farm in 2009.’
Her father PJ, who passed away in 2012, was a key figure in the process. ‘Dad was semi-retired before he passed away. Initially I was just getting into it at that stage but you always value the input of somebody that’s being doing it for years but you also want to bring new ideas to it yourself.’
A third generation dairy farm, Carmel didn’t feel the effects of abolition of the quota. ‘Not really, we are at our limit here, we can’t expand anymore.’
Assisted by a farmhand for the last number of years Carmel cherishes her chosen career where the outdoors bring real enjoyment.
Whilst an advocate of farm advisory services she gives the impression she is very much her own person. ‘They (farm advisory services) are always there if you need them.’
Her views on paperwork are equally frank. ‘I prefer the outdoor work, let’s say it’s a necessary evil, it has to be done and that’s it. You have cross compliance inspections or Bord Bia inspections, so you have to keep everything up to date.’
On the trend towards on-line applications she adds, ‘Yes, I find it’s easier and quicker to do all that stuff on line.’
Like most West Cork farmers she sees a future for the family farm but her travels have broadened her horizon. ‘With quotas gone there is a shift in some places to increasing the size of farms, it’s more about numbers. In New Zealand (where she worked during her college time) the family farm is lost in some ways but here I think it will stay as it is.’
The positives to the job are ‘being your own boss although it’s a 365 day job. The weather can be difficult but once you’re prepared and ready for the weather, it’s fine.
It’s not a case of all work and no play. Yes, I take time off, like a week in summer or weekends. Right now this is the busiest time here with cows calving and all that.
‘I’m not into package holidays or sun holidays, I prefer to visit places of historical interest.’
That aside, cinema, walking, socialising are also part of her routine while reading includes many of the farming publications, she admits she is not a television person.
Confident of her own ability, the physical side of farming doesn’t pose any difficulty due to machinery that has helped take the hardship out of the jobs. Driving her Case tractor with aplomb, there is no job that cannot be tackled and successfully completed.
Just because Carmel is one of the few (by comparison to the male population) female farmers she never feels isolated.
‘A number of my friends that studied agricultural science with me are involved in agri related jobs,’ she added. ‘Maybe initially, when I started farming some people may have thought it was a bit unusual, now, they don’t take any notice of it.’ And why should they. ‘It’s an interesting job, no two days are the same, it’s a challenge. You are outdoors, maybe some of the days like we have at the moment with the weather aren’t really great, ut the good outweigh the bad.’
Adept at forming her own opinion, she added: ‘You do what’s right for your own farm, just because someone else is doing something doesn’t mean that you have to follow.’