As I head for pastures new, I reflect on a great 16 months with the Irish Farmers Journal team. There have been many highlights over the last while, but it has been mostly about the people I have got to work with and meet.

Certainly, 2019 started as a great farming year weather-wise - as one farmer said “if Carlsberg made springs”.

It was a healthy year for the most part. Lungworm seems to be one parasite that dominated the summer months, along with flare-ups of summer mastitis and summer scour syndrome in calves.

Parasite control

With little new options around dosing (anthelmintics), we simply must be more proactive around parasite control on our farms.

In our flocks, it was lameness and worms that reoccurred as issues in lambs. While in the back end of the year, a change in weather over the last six weeks has seen a lot of farmers and cattle battling with pneumonia.

Outside the farm gate, it was not so simple, with beef farming continuing to struggle to find its place in Ireland’s large agricultural landscape.

With so many challenges ahead, we must all work harder and most importantly together to plot our way forward

It was a summer of discontent and protests. The lasting image for me was farmers protesting in Monaghan gathered around a fire in a barrel.

Sadly, there was an element of hopelessness creeping in. This should not be where farmers are; these are the people that feed us after all.

It is a time for leadership in Irish farming, as further division may be a place it will be hard to return from.

With so many challenges ahead, we must all work harder and most importantly together to plot our way forward for our Irish agricultural sector.

The next couple of years sees many challenges ahead for Irish farming, with climate change and tackling antibiotic resistance just some of them.

I firmly believe these challenges bring opportunities to adapt to these changes. We must continue to build a strong and vibrant industry, which can be the pride of the nation.

Prevention over cure

Good animal health will be a key pillar to some of these challenges. For many years I have been pontificating the prevention over cure motto. I feel now that embracing this will bring with it many solutions.

I was delighted to start Project Engage - a farm/vet-based programme leading the way in antibiotic reduction in Irish farms. I also got to work on a One Health campaign, which is beginning the story of raising awareness about the challenge of antibiotic resistance.

I also got to travel the length and breadth of the country, having many great discussions with farmers. I will continue my quest to help make farming better and improving animal health.

A huge thanks to many I met along my travels. All I can say is I enjoyed the vibrant discussions we had.

Farming of the future

Animal health must now come to the top table in discussions about Irish farming of the future.

Happy, healthy animals are more productive, have better welfare, have a reduced need for antibiotics and are even more environmentally efficient.

We should never underestimate the cost of disease on farms, particularly for the primary producers themselves. It puts you on the back foot or “ag snamh in aghaigh easa”.

Happy, healthy animals are, of course, more productive and profitable, but they make life easier and more enjoyable. Happy, healthy animals means happy farmers.

Christmas is also a time for farmers themselves to step back and take a break with family and friends. I know it will be for me, my wife and our five little kiddies.

To all the readers of the Irish Farmers Journal I wish you a happy and healthy Christmas and here is to a great farming year in 2020