Recently appointed to the role of Farm Operations Manager at Salesian Agricultural College Pallaskenry, Rachel McNamara is imbued with a tremendous passion for and innate understanding of all things farming. We interrupted the Cork woman’s busy schedule to get an update on activities at Ireland’s premier working agri college.
Nestling within a 550-acre estate of lush golden vale farmland, adjacent to the picturesque Shannon Estuary, 16km west of Limerick city, Salesian Agricultural College Pallaskenry is a fully-operational commercial farming enterprise that has been synonymous with agricultural education since 1922.
In partnership with Limerick Institute of Technology, Teagasc, QQI, City and Guilds, FÁS and the ETB, the college offers a wide range of practical training courses and programmes to the 800+ students currently enrolled, with a focus not just on education but also modern practices, performance, technology and sustainability.
Courses are provided in both Agriculture and Farm Machinery / Mechanisation. Complementing modern machinery and workshop experiences, the working farm is home to a high-EBI 460-cow dairy herd, a 50-strong dairy calf-to-beef enterprise and a flock of 100 mid-season lambing ewes. These enterprises allow students to put the theory learned in the classroom to practical, hands-on use, with sustainability to the fore.
Farm Operations Manager Rachel McNamara continues a proud family tradition at Salesian Agricultural College Pallaskenry as her parents Michael and Liz McNamara – who milk 220 Pedigree Holstein Friesians alongside her sister Emma in Newtownshandrum, County Cork – are both former students at the college. Rachel graduated from Institute of Technology, Tralee with a level 8 Honours Degree in Agricultural Science and has been a key member of the team at Pallaskenry since November, 2021, taking on a great deal of added responsibility since being appointed to her new position.
The Cork woman, who was part of the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (IHFA) team that competed in the Open Junior Show in Montichiari, Italy in October last and enjoyed the distinction of being crowned 2022 Queen of the Land the following month, takes responsibility for the day-to-day running of the commercial farm at Salesian Agricultural College Pallaskenry alongside the college’s full-time farm staff members Pawel Miaskiewicz and Dan Pearse and principal Derek O’Donoghue, delegating jobs to students and workers and making sure that all rosters are filled.
At this time of year, she is heavily involved in calving and rearing, while other duties include calf registration and record keeping for the busy dairy, beef and sheep enterprises.
The dairy herd, consisting of a mixture of mostly Friesian and some Jersey cross cows. is one of the largest in the agricultural college sector and currently sits within the top 1% of herds for economic breeding index (EBI) in the country. Grazed under an entirely spring-calving grass-based system, the aim is to produce high yields of milk solids, with the cows milked in a 50-unit rotary milking parlour.
Students are trained in grass measuring and budgeting as well as all farm management requirements, while Salesian Agricultural College Pallaskenry is a national leader in the demonstration and adoption of practices that employ science-based solutions to support agriculture production in a sustainable manner.
While women have traditionally always been very active in the agri industry here in Ireland, Rachel is pleased to observe even more getting involved: “It’s very encouraging to see young girls coming through the doors at Pallaskenry to get their Green Certs and showing an interest in agriculture,” she notes.
“This is not a new thing, of course, as when I was at agri college myself, there were eight girls in a class of 20, which is 40 per cent of the class. When I was at the Ploughing Championships last year, I noticed that there were a number of young women at every dairy stand and it’s great to see.
“There are more and more women getting into agriculture and this can only be good for the industry. I’m involved in the Kerry Ladies Discussion Group and it’s nice to have that outlet where we can all discuss our roles and learn from one another. I really admire young girls who are going out there and managing farms – that is very encouraging to see.”
Once students have secured their Level 5 Certificate in Agriculture from Pallaskenry, for their second year they then have the option of taking a Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Agriculture in either Dairy Herd Management, Drystock Management or Mechanisation.
In her capacity as Farm Operations Manager at Salesian Agricultural College, Rachel is of course instrumental in helping create the farmers of the future, making sure they are armed with the tools necessary to enjoy progressive and rewarding careers. “I’m very proud of that. It’s humbling to play any role in helping the young people of today progress into the farmers of tomorrow. As well as the various modules, we give them practical skills and I love to see them progress.”
Between the full-time Agriculture and Farm Machinery / Mechanisation courses, there are currently some 200 full time students on the college’s books.
“We also cater for Distance Education learning, where students can do online learning during the week and attend physically one Saturday a month, and then come in for their exams, too.”
Technology is embraced at Salesian Agricultural College Pallaskenry, where some of the innovations in the dairy enterprise include collars for all cows to monitor heat and health, a drafting system in the parlour for the easy sorting of cows, and automatic calf feeders to reduce labour.
Best-practice in taught in every aspect of efficiency and sustainability, and all students leave the college with the knowledge and practical experience needed to build a successful career in agriculture. “Having an Agri Degree opens so many potential career pathways,” Rachel concludes. “Between farming, farm management, consultancy, nutrition and advisory work, there are options for a huge variety of roles within the industry.”
Salesian Agricultural College Pallaskenry,
Don Bosco Road,
Tel: 061 393100
Email: [email protected]
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 11 No 3, May/June 2023