Tadhg Buckley grew up on a farm on the Cork-Kerry border, a place he would return to once he’d established his professional career.
It was on that dairy farm he heard that, after the Leaving Cert, studying agriculture in University College Dublin (UCD) seemed like the course for him.
“In ag science you to have to do work placements and go out on different types of farms to get experience,” he explains.
“We used to take ag students in and that was what got me interested in college. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but talking to the students helped me decide.”
Tadhg completed his degree in ag science at UCD and then headed over to the US on a J1 working visa.
Before he went, he did bag himself a job to come back to, one which shaped his entire career, remarkably it came about by pure chance.
“I was in the ag common room, and I met a friend of mine, James Carroll, he said he was going down to the careers office to get an application form for AIB, because they were taking graduate applications at the time.
I didn’t want to come home from the States, and I ended up postponing as long as I could
“So, I said sure I’m at nothing I’ll come down with you, so I went down to the careers office with him and just filled in an application form because, I was just bored.”
Well that random bored moment paid off because he was called for an interview and ended up getting an offer from AIB but first took a trip stateside on his J1.
“I didn’t want to come home from the States, and I ended up postponing as long as I could. Eventually I said I better come home, and my visa was running out and I started in AIB in general banking.”
You really couldn’t blame him for wanting to stay in the US, he was based on Nantucket Island working for a Kerryman, building picket fences.
“Best time of my life, it’s an amazing place,” he explains. “I was labouring, and we did a lot of work on some amazing houses.”
We did work on senator John Kerry’s summer house. We didn’t know who he was at the time
Nantucket is a popular area for wealthy folk to have summer houses. Tadhg’s now-wife Edel was working for a cleaning company, so they were getting a taste of the high life while they were there.
“We did work on senator John Kerry’s summer house. We didn’t know who he was at the time, it was only when he ran for President in 2004 that I realised who he was,” he says.
Working his way up
Tadhg worked his way up the ranks in AIB from that graduate position.
“Not long after I joined AIB they put me into the agri side of it, so I was getting the chance to go out and meet farmers and I loved that,” he says. “Giving them money to buy land or develop their farms.”
In 2013, Tadhg – who is clearly not afraid of a challenge – took over the home farm at Boherbue, Co Cork, and through work had the opportunity to embark on an MBA at the University of Limerick.
It was very difficult, very tough on my wife. It is very tough on family because an MBA is a huge commitment for everyone involved
“I couldn’t really turn it down because I didn’t know if I’d get the opportunity again if I turned it down,” he explains.
“It was very difficult, very tough on my wife. It is very tough on family because an MBA is a huge commitment for everyone involved. Edel helped a lot, she is involved in the farm as well and we have a very good guy working for us.”
Back on the farm they increased the dairy herd from 60 cows up to 136 and the experience of farming in current times gave Tadhg more understanding of what their AIB agri clients were going through.
“I think it gave me a better understanding of how farmers think,” he says.
A new role
In 2017, 17 years after that graduate position he didn’t really know he wanted. Tadhg was promoted to head of agriculture and he stayed in this position until he took up a new challenge and joined the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) as director of policy/chief economist in December last year.
“I found it very tough to leave, I had some great friends there and obviously it was 20 years so it’s half my life spent there but I’d just gone as far as I could go on the agri side of it, and I wanted to do something different after 20 years of banking.
“I love the policy side of it, that always interested me a lot, so I felt this opportunity was a good fit for me at this point in my career,” he says.
We are trying to make sure that Irish agriculture is not the enemy
It has certainly been a challenge with COVID-19, getting to know a new team remotely and of course the challenges facing agriculture and the environment.
“From a policy perspective it’s unprecedented with the challenges we are facing – the climate challenge – farmers are front and centre of it. What’s being asked of them, they are being scapegoated to a large extent.
“We are trying to make sure that Irish agriculture is not the enemy. It’s not the problem - but it can be part of the solution,” he adds.
Tadhg who is also a Nuffield Scholar (2009) is joining the conversation at this year’s Nuffield conference with a seat on the panel discussion “Future trends in agri-food policy – how does the sector need to respond”.