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Locals will flock back to the farm this Friday

 

Willie John Fitzmaurice’s farm is situated on a quiet local road near Athleague. So quiet in fact, that Willie John can spend most of the day working without seeing a single soul. It wasn’t always like this, however.

  “This was always a kind of rambling house in the past and people used to call in while passing on their bikes on their way to Roscommon,” Willie John told me as we sat in the original farmhouse, which is up to 300-years-old.

  “My uncles used to own a tractor and at the time the brought sheep and cattle to the mart for the neighbours,” Willie said before explaining how his uncles and their neighbours used to trade labour in order to get the work done.

  “That was the country life at the time but after that more machinery came when the grants came in the 1970s. Then diesel started getting dearer and people couldn’t be working for nothing then,” he added.

  Willie, by his own admission, was lucky to inherit two farms of land, one in Athleague and one in Four Roads, and has vowed to pass the land on in as good if not better condition than he inherited it.   

  Willie John’s world is caught between the modern and the traditional and nowhere is that more obvious than in the old farm cottage he is currently renovating. On one side of the building we look out a centuries old Crown glass window complete with ‘bullseye’. The bullseye was caused by the process of blowing the glass, a skill which dates back hundreds of years. Behind us there is a modern PVC window complete with vent. It’s a stark contrast and it reminds Willie John of other changes.

  “This was always an open house. People could come here and take off their boots at the door and make their own cup of tea. It was always a stop off for people on their way to Roscommon town. Now, most of the people are older or have passed away,” he said.

  According to Willie John, however, his own house in nearby Four Roads is still very much an open house in the modern sense. He lives there with his wife Kathleen, who first caught his eye on a snowy St. Patrick’s night in Rockford’s in 1987!

  Kathleen, who Willie John described as “quieter” than himself and “very patient” must have cast a very powerful spell that night judging by the beaming smile on Willie John’s face as he described how they met.

  While Willie John and Kathleen have managed to remain close to their roots, modern Ireland has taken its toll close to home. Their children found their lives taking them away from Athleague and Roscommon. Daughters in Dublin and a son on agricultural science placement in Scotland attest to the need to move elsewhere for work and education. Their father believes there’s only one solution to this modern Irish problem:

  “We need a factory or two within a 30 mile radius of Athleague that will employ maybe 100 people each and that way we’ll keep people on the farms,” he said before bleakly admitting that the days of small farms with small flocks may be numbered.

  Willie John also highlighted the importance of supporting local businesses, shops and butchers. After all, his father, Tommy, opened an account in Keane’s of Athleague in the 1950s and Willie John has continued that relationship with Bernard Keane. New business relationships have formed in that time also and our host paid tribute to the work of companies like Kepak in supporting the work he does in both Athleague and Four Roads.

  Modern technology also plays a big part in farming nowadays and Willie John was adamant that broadband would be as important as rural electrification was in the 1940s. Although he did say he wasn’t expecting the broadband workers to become part of the local community in the same way the ESB workers of the last century did!

  Before we left, Willie John took us on a tour of his own personal fiefdom, which spreads towards the imposing wind turbines on Scrine hill. The turbines are a sore subject in these parts and Willie John assured us we were lucky to arrive on a day when they were aimed away from the ancient cottage.

  It isn’t long before even the wind turbines are overshadowed by Skip the sheepdog however. Skip follows Willie John’s directions while moving a flock of sheep towards one of the ‘sheep creeps’ which dot the landscape. It’s impressive work and proves that man and animal are still as vital to the land as grant funded machinery.

  As we made our way back to the car Willie John graciously extended an invitation to his farm walk this Friday at 2 pm. The farm will play host to a number of visitors as part of Roscommon Lamb Festival and Willie John even promised us a hearty bowl of stew!

  Friday’s event promises to be another entertaining and informative day out with Willie John and he’s certainly looking forward to the occasion which will once again bring visitors from across Roscommon to Fitzmaurice’s farm.

 

Sheep cheese? That’s not such a baaad idea!

 

This weekend’s Roscommon Lamb Festival will be a foodie’s delight with a range of food events throughout the six-day festival.

  One of the highlights will be a range of sheep’s cheese on offer at the farmers’ market on Friday morning, thanks to the efforts of Sheridan’s Cheesemongers in Galway.  

  Sheridan’s have amassed a selection of sheep’s cheeses from Ireland, the UK and the Continent, with something to suit every palate. It promises to be a wonderful opportunity to taste a variety of sheep’s cheeses and organisers are also hoping that it will tempt some local sheep farmers to enter the sheep dairying business with a view to establishing a brand of Roscommon sheep’s cheese in the near future.

  Foods of Roscommon will be celebrated at a number of events throughout the weekend, including the special Farmers’ Market on Friday morning and the array of local food which will be on sale during the street party on Saturday night.

Get upcycling at Lamb Festival!

 

Entries are still being taken for pallet upcycling as part of this year’s Roscommon Lamb Festival which takes place this weekend.

  Pallets are still available for competitors wishing to take part and valuable cash prizes are on offer, including first prize of €250, second prize of €150 and third prize of €100, thanks to sponsorship from Murray Timber, Ballygar.

  To arrange collection of a pallet or pallets, contact Kathleen Shanagher on 086-3726743, or Sandra Kenny on 087-2352315.

 

 

Smart Farming makes sense!

Smart Farming, the IFA-led cost savings programme, will work with more than 1,000 farmers across 50 discussion groups, purchasing groups and IFA branches in 2017. Farmers who take part in Smart Farming save an average of €5,000 per year, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their farms by 7 to 10%.

  Speaking at the launch of the programme, IFA President Joe Healy said: “It is important that we look at costs inside the farm gate, and the fact that this programme enhances the environment really is a double dividend.”

  The programme works directly with farmers to develop cost-saving plans, tailored to their farm, and focussed on eight key areas: soil fertility, energy, grassland, water, feed, inputs and waste, machinery and time management.

  The IFA President explained: “Beginning this month, expert advisors will carry out case studies on 50 farms nationwide. The actions, results and learnings from these case studies will not only help the farmers involved to make significant savings, but will also be communicated through Discussion Groups, allowing more than 1,000 farmers to benefit from the Smart Farming expertise and experience.”

  Smart Farming participant William Cassidy from Maganey in County Carlow added: “I am taking part in the initiative to find cost savings on my farm and share the ideas with my neighbours. The fact I am also playing my part to improve the environment is great too.”

  Smart Farming is led by the IFA and works with the knowledge and expertise of Teagasc, EPA, UCD, SEAI, FTMTA, Fertiliser Association of Ireland, Irish Grassland Association, and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes. 

  More details about the Smart Farming programme are available at www.smartfarming.ie

Corcoran welcomes Varadkar stance on Rural Social Scheme

Mr. Padraig Corcoran, Roscommon IFA Rural Development Chairperson, has said confirmation given by the Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar that the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) is an income support initiative, is a welcome development as there have been attempts by his Department to make it a job activation measure like other social employment schemes.

  Mr. Corcoran said the RSS is a vital support to 3,100 low-income farm families and to local communities where job opportunities are scarce and must remain a standalone social and community support measure.

  The Rural Social Scheme involves a top-up to a person’s social protection payment, mainly Farm Assist.

  Mr. Corcoran said the recent addition of 500 places is welcome, despite the fact that the terms and conditions vary from those that apply to the 2,600 participants who have been in the scheme for some time.

  Mr. Corcoran said social supports such as Farm Assist and RSS are vital to maintain farming and rural communities. The recent changes to Farm Assist where the 30% income disregards and child disregards were reintroduced is a very positive outcome and IFA has acknowledged Minister Varadkar’s role in this following a submission IFA made last year prior to the Budget.

 

‘Area protection and more funding needed’

John Hanley, Roscommon IFA County Chairperson has outlined to TDs and Senators the key priorities for the ongoing review of Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC), including protection for all areas of the county and increased payments for those farming in these marginal areas. 

  Mr. Hanley said it is crucial that funding the ANC Scheme is increased in Budget 2018 in order to restore the allocation to what it was prior to cuts imposed in response to the economic downturn in Budget 2009. He said this would require an increase from the current funding level of €205m to €250m.

  He said: “Cuts made in 2009 meant farmers in marginal areas endured reductions of up to €1,000 – a very significant amount for farmers on low incomes. The restoration of these cuts is long overdue and Government must ensure this forms part of the ANC review. Direct payments such as ANCs are crucial to sustain farming on marginal land and they play a critical role in supporting rural economies in peripheral areas.”

  Mr. Hanley insisted that, following the review, ANC payment rates must reflect the natural disadvantage to ensure farmers with the land most difficult to farm receive a payment that reflects their higher costs of production.

IFA raises Shannon maintenance with Canney

IFA Flood Project Team Chairman Padraic Joyce said the Shannon Maintenance Scheme, which is currently being developed, must be implemented without further delay.

  Speaking following a meeting with the Minister for the Office of Public Works, Sean Canney and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, TD, Padraic Joyce said the plan being put together by the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group is a welcome development that has been long sought by IFA.

  “It is now important that this plan is implemented, so that flooding can be avoided or mitigated on the River Shannon and we do not get a repeat of the winter 2015 floods or the problems surrounding summer flooding,” Padraic Joyce said.

  The IFA delegation to the meeting, which included representatives from counties along the River Shannon, stressed that the protection of households and farmland must be a priority in developing the plan.

  In addition, Padraic Joyce requested that the relocation scheme, being put together for domestic dwellings, should be extended to farmyards and other business premises. Other issues raised at the meeting included relief for farmers who are affected by high water levels on turloughs. Mr. Joyce said a solution must be found to address this issue, as otherwise farm incomes will be at a severe loss as land becomes inaccessible.

  Padraic Joyce also called on Minister Canney to conclude the review of the cost-benefit analysis, which has been promised for some time: “The current calculation of benefits to determine whether funding is made available for flood defence works, or measures to alleviate flooding does not account for the agricultural losses resulting from flooding,” he said.

Creed welcomes 27th European Grassland Federation meeting to Cork

The 27th European Grassland Federation 2018 general meeting will be hosted in Cork from 17th-21st of June next year.

  Michael Creed TD, Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine met the organising committee in Cork recently, and he welcomed the decision to host the event in Ireland, which attracts major interests in European grassland and is a very prestigious event.

  The theme of next year’s event is ‘Sustainable Meat and Milk from grasslands’. The meeting will be organised by Teagasc under the guidance of the European Grassland Federation (EGF).

  The general meeting will start on Sunday, 17th of June and continue to Thursday, 21st of June.  It will involve a number of conference papers, workshops, master classes, visit to the Animal and Grassland Innovation Centre at Teagasc, Moorepark and five separate farm tours. It will attract a wide range of stakeholders across the European grassland sectors. The topic next year will be much focussed on generating more funding streams in sustainable production for grassland and creating more awareness around this area.

 

‘FF hedge cutting does nothing for farming’

IFA says plan ‘panders to Greens’

IFA Environment Chairman Thomas Cooney has strongly criticised Fianna Fáil’s proposal to introduce changes in the Heritage Bill, which will restrict the cutting of hedgerows, exclusively to roadside hedges.

  Thomas Cooney said: “Fianna Fáil has now effectively done a u-turn and pandered to the Greens, having previously given clear commitments to farmers across the country that they would support the Government’s proposal to introduce a pilot two-year project, which would allow for a more managed approach to hedge cutting during August along roadside hedges and at time of cereal sowing and grass reseeding.

  “IFA fully supports Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys’ proposals as we believe they are fair and balanced and provide flexibility, while ensuring biodiversity protection. However, Fianna Fáil’s change in position now jeopardises the pilot project, which provides the basis to learn from the findings and establish long-term solutions.”

  Concluding, Thomas Cooney said: “IFA will meet Fianna Fáil and strongly encourage them to rethink their change in position. Protecting the environment is not the preserve of the Green Party or Fianna Fáil. Farmers want to play our part and Minister Humphreys’ pilot proposal should be fully supported, as it forms a basis to get the right balance between protecting the environment and supporting best farming practices.”

Bord Bia launches major Irish beef campaign in Germany

A major new Bord Bia campaign to support Irish beef exports to Germany was launched by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed in Stuttgart. The promotional campaign, valued at almost €1 million this year alone, will target in excess of 8 million German consumers. In 2016, Ireland exported 23,000 tonnes of beef to Germany, a doubling in volume since 2012 (from 11,500 tonnes), and according to Bord Bia this figure is expected to reach 30,000 tonnes by 2018.

  Speaking from Stuttgart Minister Creed said: “I am delighted to launch Bord Bia’s new Irish beef campaign for the German market, introducing Irish beef’s unique sustainability credentials to German consumers for the first time. Promotional campaigns such as this enable us to showcase Ireland as a provider of safe, quality and sustainably produced food.

  “Against the Brexit backdrop, identifying market opportunities, building awareness and securing business in a more diversified range of markets has never been more important to the future of our quality food production.”

  Tara McCarthy, Bord Bia’s Chief Executive, said that building on the recent strong export performance in this competitive environment requires a sustained marketing and promotional drive such as this campaign. 

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