Forging your own path
The Farming Space at the Agri Careers Expo will place a particular focus on young farmers developing a career for themselves in the farming sector.

The difficulties of getting a foothold in the industry are well documented.

Land, labour and finance are all major challenges that Maighread Barron, a 25-year-old dairy farmer from Ballinamult in Co Waterford, has had to overcome in the past 12 months.

After finishing her dairy business degree in UCD in 2016, the plan was always to forge a career in the dairy industry.

I had hoped to get working as a farm manager and build up a relationship with a farmer and then maybe go into partnership with the hope of branching out by myself at some stage

“When I finished college, the plan was always to go into partnership or potentially lease a farm down the road at some stage.

"Everything just happened much quicker than I thought it would,” Maighread explained.

“There was the opportunity to go into partnership on the home farm with my parents and brother, but working with family presents its challenges and I wanted to have my own authority.

“I had hoped to get working as a farm manager and build up a relationship with a farmer and then maybe go into partnership with the hope of branching out by myself at some stage.”

However, after working on local dairy farms for a few months she began to give the idea of leasing a farm serious consideration.

"It was at this point that a 100-acre dairy farm came up for lease in Clonea, Co Waterford, 30 minutes from home.

“We went down and met the farmer and the thing he was most concerned about was would the person coming in look after the place, and it seemed a good fit,” Maighread explained.

With land very slow to move hands in that part of the world, the decision was made to take the block on a 15-year lease at €280/acre.

Challenges

There were considerable challenges when it came to accessing finance, which Maighread admits she wouldn’t have been unable to overcome if it wasn’t for her parents support.

“I didn’t know how the banks worked and had nothing of my own to back me up when it came to securing a loan,” Maighread said.

“I wouldn’t have got anything if it wasn’t for my parents’ help. They put up some of the land at home as collateral.”

The farm was an active dairy farm, so in general facilities were in good order.

There won’t be any profit from 2018, but in year one you haven’t a choice but to spend to get going

The main addition was a new 12-unit DeLaval milking parlour which will be commissioned in the coming weeks, with cows due to calve down in the second week of February.

“The old parlour was there for 30 years but I knew I would have to struggle through it for the first year until I started generating cashflow,” according to Maighread.

“There won’t be any profit from 2018, but in year one you haven’t a choice but to spend to get going.”

Starting out any business at 25 can be a difficult endeavour and that is no different with farming.

“There are a lot of advantages of being your own boss but at the end of the day everything comes back to you, the pressure is there.”

She continued: “I got locked up with TB last September and there were more empties than I would have liked and you start asking yourself what could you have done better but there is no point beating yourself up, you have to keep going.”

Social life

Having to milk morning and evening means that you have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders but Maighread doesn’t see this as an issue: “I probably have more free time now than I ever had. I can go anywhere during the day if I need to for an hour or two, if I get the work done. If you are working as a farm manager then you have to stay around for the day, even if it’s a quiet time of the year.

“When it comes to a Sunday, I would have it set up that all I would have to do is milk.”

Maighread believes it is important that you don’t let the farm overcome you.

“If you want to go out on a Saturday night, then you can go out and enjoy yourself but you know you will have to get up the next morning.

"I have gotten great support from the owner and neighbours here over the last year too which was a massive help.”

Future

The future is bright for Maighread, who is settling into her first year of normality as a dairy farmer: “I see this farm as a stepping stone that will allow me to build up experience and a relationship with the bank that will allow me to purchase a farm in the future.”

Maighread will be one of a number of speakers on the Farming Space stage at the Agri Careers Expo who will be talking through the challenges and the opportunities that face young farmers.