Published date16 September 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
“I just love farming,” he says, arms folded, leaning back into his chair. “My grandfather worked so hard to get the farm we have. My father works very hard to keep it going too, so I’d feel bad if I didn’t take it up.”

The second-year level 6 advanced cert in agriculture student from Killoe, Co Longford, is sitting in a room within the college’s main building, a grand structure dating back to the 1700s, set among rolling drumlins and lush fields and forestry.

Sitting across the table, Emma Cullen (30), another second-year from Mountnugent, Co Cavan, reflects on her journey in farming. She worked an office job for nine years before deciding it was time to pursue a career in agriculture.

“I’ve always had the passion for farming, so it’s really only in the last two or three years that I’ve pursued that a bit more,” she says.

That passion comes from her father: “Growing up, going to marts, going to agricultural shows.”

While the pull of generational farming has fixed both Rowley and Cullen on their current paths, the sector they are entering is much changed from decades before.

Ahead of the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois, next week, several young people spoke to The Irish Times about what it means to be a young farmer today. Among them, there is a consensus that a spiralling climate crisis demands a change in behaviours within the agricultural sector.

Keeping up to date with the challenge at hand, educators at Ballyhaise have shifted the focus of their curriculum across the board.

“There was always a focus on profit per hectare,” says John Kelly, the principal at Ballyhaise, sitting in the canteen of the college. “We’ve always had a focus historically to look at your profit per hectare of land, because that’s how you make a living off the land.”

In the past five years, the college has changed tack, says Kelly. Prior to the pandemic, he was asked to give a speech to some young people at Cavan Library about the human impact on the planet, and specifically the role of industry in Ireland in causing climate change.

“I think that was a real moment for me, because I was able to see young people’s genuine anxiety and concerns about the impacts that humans were having,” he says.

“For me then, it was to look at what we’re doing here in the college, and to make sure that we were also going to start implementing changes that would complement the profit per hectare, productivity of the farm, with actions that would reduce our footprint.”


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