Hannah Woods speaks to Lisa Begley as part of a new series of interviews with UCD agricultural students about their research, their ideas, and their thoughts on what lies ahead for Irish Agriculture.
As the fifth generation farmer to their suckler and sheep enterprise in Mayo, Lisa Begley grew up to have a keen interest in working with farmers directly. After graduating from Animal Science in UCD, Begley decided to fulfil this passion and continue her studies with a Masters in Innovation and Extension. “I feel like there is a massive gap in the industry to interact with farmers one on one. For the most part farmers don’t want to talk. There’s a disconnect between the practice of innovation, expansion and development with farmers. A connection needs to be created between the two again and this message is at the core of why I chose to do a masters in Innovation and Extension”.
Innovation is at the forefront of Irish farms with an ever growing pressure to develop more efficient ways of farming while also maximising the output of our animals. Lisa’s thesis focuses on the succession effect and the impact it takes on farm production. With the population of Irish farmers nearing the sixties age bracket, the importance of farm succession is a key player in how the way we farm will grow and adapt to the current circumstances, shaping the future of Irish farming.
With the impact of succession unknown to many, Begley was influenced by her own situation at home while doing her thesis. “The farms in my area have been through generations and generations of farming families with some now coming to standstill”. With a distrust felt by many within the farming community to seek out help and plan ahead “I wanted to focus my research on reconnecting farmers and advisors, motivate them to look at their succession plan and see that when a plan is set in place for the future, a farm will flourish”. For many farmers production is at the backbone of their business, “but I think to many farmers numbers aren’t as important as the connection to their land, the generations that have gone through and what it has produced for each family”.
Succession looks to motivate where farmers can be too scared to expand their farm. “The time, workload and money that you have to frontload straight away when you look to diversify can be scary if you have no one coming down the line. However, with a plan set in place, they motivate the farm owner to say ‘look I can do this, I can go into dairy, I can buy more land, I can make my breeding more efficient, introduce more bulls or cows onto the farm, the money isn’t going to go to waste’”.
With a successor in place, young farmers will have a bigger say in the way the farm is run. “Young farmers are more likely to invest into environmental measures and look at all the options, not just one narrow lane”. The likelihood of stricter environmental constraints being put in place on Irish farms will account for new methods of farming being tried. “You just have to think outside the box and not think about what others will think of you if you go down an alternative route. I believe it is important to develop your farm as your own person. You don’t always have to go through the mart or factory or involve that third party to sell your produce. There’s way more viable options, it’s not all about extensive farming, you could be very intensive with smaller numbers and still make a lot of money by selling direct, locally and ruling out the middleman”.
Down the line Lisa wants to become an independent succession mediator with the focus being solely on the farmer. “They want to have someone there at their own level who’s going to talk to them and understand that there’s a family to support behind it all. That’s where I want to go, I want to support these farmers and make the future of farming more sustainable. I think every farm is different, if dairy is your answer so be it but I think it’s that you have to explore the situations that are there and make use of grants and payments to help expand your farm. There are so many options for farmers to diversify and become more profitable.”
“Young people are the future of farming, we have to make the most of it. We have to push for what we want. We are the farmers of now, never mind the future, what we do now will affect not only our children but our grandchildren, so it is important that we make the most out of opportunities that we gain to make the biggest impact on the sector.”