Farming has evolved significantly in recent years and this is mainly due to a new generation of farmers eager to get the maximum potential from their land and livestock.
To do this, they must learn from other countries who are considered ahead of Ireland in farming terms. One such young farmer that has done this is Clare native Liam Hanrahan who has spent time learning the farming methods in both New Zealand and France.
For this month’s edition of Irish Tractor and Agri, we speak to Liam about what it takes to get the best from your farm, while he also explains what it is like to be the current Young Farmer of the Year.
Liam was the judges’ choice at the FBD Macra na Feirme Young Farmer of the Year awards last November. The awards, now in their 22nd year, are sponsored by FBD Insurance and supported by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and the National Rural Network (NRN).
As a director of Callanview Farm Ltd and an active member of Kilrush Macra, the Doonbeg man was recognised with the coveted gong at the twenty first year of the awards.
The ceremony took place in the Castleknock Hotel and Liam came out on top from a shortlist of six candidates, all who impressed the judges in their own way.
A number of criteria shape the judges’ assessment of entrants. These include community involvement, farm safety, environmental protection awareness, agricultural knowledge, enterprise quality, farm efficiency, farm business initiative and innovation.
“I was delighted to receive the award,” said Liam. “I had gone through the various stages of the interview process and to even make the shortlist was on honour, but to win it was very pleasing.” Before setting off on his travels, Liam qualified with a PhD in Dairy Farm Efficiency, but he stressed that his time abroad really educated him.
“The experience of going away and working elsewhere, seeing other farms like working in New Zealand, you don’t necessarily have to go abroad but I would highly encourage travel.
“It definitely broadens the mind and working on other farms is fiercely important. There are things you will see on other farms by working with them that you won’t see by just talking to them.
“It was a massive scale. The level of agricultural output from New Zealand is huge, you have to see it to appreciate it really and they have fantastic business awareness about farming,” said Liam.
“I would have learned an awful lot about managing a large number of cows and grassland management would have been their key focus all the time.
“If you work for the top farmers, they will share information with you that you won’t necessarily get elsewhere. Definitely, gain experience on farms elsewhere, and don’t be afraid to travel,” he advised.
“I would have met farmers who would have worked off farm for a few years as well and it definitely stands to them in terms of a mindset because they take a fresh approach then when starting out in their new [farming] career.
“If you work off farm and you return to a farm, it is very much a chosen career pathway and it can be very focused for the person doing that,” he said.
Liam added that the role of Macra na Feirme in farming was instrumental in educating young farmers as Ireland looks to make further progress in the agricultural industry.
“It is important that we continue to support and encourage succession planning in agriculture through family succession or partnership opportunities available through Macra’s Land Mobility Service to ensure the future sustainability of Ireland’s largest indigenous industry.
“I would encourage people to get involved with Macra. There are a wide range of activities in it and not only is it a great source of education, but the social aspect is very good also.”
Ironically, there have been only two people in Clare to win the Young Farmer of the Year awards and they live next door to each other, Liam and his neighbour Andrew Killeen who won the award in 2001.
Along with his parents, William and Catherine, the Hanrahan family milk 180 cows which has grown since the abolishing of the milk quota.
“We have a 10-unit milking parlour and we would farm 230 acres. The land down here is made up of a heavy clay soil and the grazing season would be shorter because of this.”
The dairy sector is in a strong position at the moment, but Liam admitted that there are always challenges to be met.
“Dairy farming is doing well at the moment and getting rid of the milk quota has allowed farmers to expand. There are always issues to be dealt with. There is work being done at Government level to support the farmers, but obviously there could be more done.”
Having spent time abroad, Liam is in no doubt that Ireland is up there with the best of them when it comes to their style of farming.
“Irish farmers are up there with the best in the world, some of our practices would be as good as any country. We are probably the most efficient country in Europe, but that needs to be promoted more.”
The 26-year-old is one of a new wave of farmers who have helped evolve the industry and ensure that Ireland’s stature as a farming country increases significantly throughout the world.
CallAnview Farm Ltd
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 8 No 3, October/November 2020