THE future of farming in West Cork is in safe hands according to the newly-appointed head of Clonakilty Agricultural College.
Keith Kennedy has moved from the position of assistant principal to head up a student body of nearly 400 students across full- and part-time courses in what’s known locally as Darrara College and is one of only three Teagasc agricultural colleges in the country.
Originally from Waterford he’s an honorary Clonakilty man, living in the area since 2002 and is married to Rossmore woman Catriona O’Keeffe. He’s also very involved in the local GAA, both as a player in the past and at club level.
Farming is in his blood and he cites his mother Rosemary, who farms the family cattle farm in Rathgormack, Co Waterford, as his inspiration.
Keith’s father died in 1991 and Rosemary was honoured with the title of Farm Woman of the Year in 2000, winning the prize for her ‘business acumen in managing the farm and her ambition and foresight in developing skills through education and training.’
‘My mother would be my inspiration alright and I got my grá for working in the agri sector through a farm advisor who came in the aftermath of my father passing away,’ Keith said.
He’s very optimistic about the future of dairy farming and said the average herd size in West Cork – and throughout Cork county – had exploded since quotas were abolished.
‘I see growing opportunities for young people that cannot get in farm ownership immediately using our courses and qualifications as a means to get into farm management where there is a emerging demand.
‘But what we have to teach to our students is how to manage those numbers effectively,’ he said.
Management of grass, finance, people and technology are all essential in making a farm a successful one, he said.
‘With milk quotas gone, there are serious opportunities to be had in dairy with the right skill set and you couldn’t be living in a better part of Ireland from a farming point of view than West Cork,’ he said.
Maintaining a balanced lifestyle and manageable workload is perhaps the single biggest challenge facing their students.
‘There’s greater demands on farmers to make a living in a globalised market and the emphasis can be to do it all themselves, which can leadto burn-out and isolation,’ he said. Health and safety is another obvious focal point considering a recent ESRI report found that fatality rate for farmers was 10 times that of the average worker between 2009 and 2015.
These are all issues looked at on the courses taught on the college attended primarily by males – only around 10 to 15% of students are female. Across the board, numbers have fallen slightly in the last two years since an improvement in the economy with Keith noting an increase in a return to higher education and gaining degrees in everything from teaching to engineering.
‘Some people are deferring their training at post-Leaving Cert level to get another degree or an apprenticeship before coming back to us.’
Keith takes over from Majella Maloney, who has been appointed as the Teagasc Regional Advisory Manager for the Limerick-Kerry region.