Angus Woods: Farmers have limited opportunities to socialize, so open houses are crucial

Last week, Teagasc held its Beef 2022 Open House in Grange, Co. Meath. As this is a biannual event, and with the intervention of Covid-19, the last time we were able to hike through the fertile fields of Meath was on a scorching hot day in 2018.

Upon entering the event, we were each given a 280-page book detailing the information available at each booth related to the event. A quick look at the front page gave everyone a clear indication of what to expect that day.

The event, titled “Beef 2022, Supporting Sustainable Beef Farming,” had more than enough booths and research to make cattle farmers realize that there are real opportunities to make positive change on our farms that help improve profits while reducing our environmental footprint.

There are really big challenges ahead of us. Beef prices have fallen in recent weeks, and expensive feed and fertilizers purchased earlier in the year still have to be paid for on many farms, which will leave many cattle ranches with a lack of funding to fund any on-farm investment .

The upcoming cuts in base payments next year and beyond were a really painful subject for many of the farmers I spoke to at the event. Historically most CAP payments have come from the beef sector and as such many of the farmers present were the ones who will lose the most from the new CAP reform.

One of the many issues that interested me was the large role that Irish dairy products play in our beef sector, which has always been the case. The fact that 60 per cent of Irish beef comes from the Irish dairy herd was confirmed on the first plaque in the front gate.

reduce emissions

The Food Vision Dairy Group, set up by Agriculture Secretary Charlie McConalogue at the end of January this year, appears to be ignoring that fact as it ponders how Ireland’s dairy sector can reduce its emissions. It is unfortunate that a joint approach between dairy production and dairy beef to reduce emissions seems unattainable.

The Food Vision Beef and Sheep Group had its first meeting in mid-June, five months after the Dairy Group. They are still only working through the basics of the environmental challenges facing the sector, which shows where the priorities of the minister and the farming organizations lie. It is planned to present a report by the end of September.

What really struck me about the day in Grange was how happy the farmers were to be at an event where they could meet and chat with friends and colleagues who they haven’t since Covid entered our lives had seen.

Social media and Zoom calls are poor substitutes for face-to-face conversations. After arriving first thing in the morning and planning to leave early, the day flew by and the exhibits began to close before I made it to the last few stands.

Farmers, particularly full-time farmers, often have limited opportunities for social interaction, and most cattle farmers operate as a one-person unit, lacking the size or financial strength to enlist help.

I have conflicting views when I hear farmers say they take a day off to attend an event like the Grange Open Day.

No other business sector would consider such an event, where the main reason for attending is to improve your business, network and learn about new research and technology, as a ‘day off’. As an industry with limited social interaction, an event full of work-related booths is considered socially important and a day off.

I am noticing a large increase in open houses, farm tours, information sessions and events currently filling my schedule which have thankfully replaced all Covid online meetings.

There was a point in the second year of the pandemic when it was impossible to log into any online forums.

Safety on the farm

Minister of State Martin Hayden has responsibility for improving agricultural safety. It is a topic that is very difficult to highlight in an online forum. With a number of regional farming gatherings taking place over the next few weeks, we should all make an effort to attend our nearest one. It could be the most profitable few hours of work we ever do.

As local shows prepare to resume after their Covid-enforced hiatus, hopes of big crowds through the gates are high. Many committees report difficulties in recruiting volunteers to help and struggle to reproduce what so many love to experience from a trip to their local show.

Anyone with a few hours and willing to volunteer is welcome at most shows across the country.

After two years of the pandemic, let’s make the most of the opportunities this summer presents to re-enter our local communities and rebuild our real social networks.

Angus Woods is a drywall builder in Co Wicklow Angus Woods: Farmers have limited opportunities to socialize, so open houses are crucial

Fry Electronics Team

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