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'There’s much more to Macra than farming'

It’s a club that boasts about 8,000 members throughout the country, but what is Macra na Feirme and why do people join?

It's National Dairy Week - we'll hear from a ... Macra member John Carroll Facebook Facebook

THOUSANDS OF YOUNG people around Ireland are members of Macra na Feirme, a voluntary organisation that promotes personal development and networking.

With clubs all over the country, it boasts about 8,000 members between the ages of 17 and 35.

Macra na Feirme, meaning ‘Stalwarts of the Land’, was founded in 1944 by a group of 12 agricultural advisors. Over 250,000 young people have passed through the ranks of the organisation since then.

It focuses on six key areas of activity: agriculture, sports, travel, public speaking, community involvement and performing arts. The group has also paired up with See Change to promote positive mental health.

Just one third of members are involved in farming, but many come from an agricultural background. The gender breakdown in 60:40 in favour of men.

Over the years, the group has established many significant farming ventures, including: the Irish Farmers Journal, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and the Farm Apprenticeship Scheme.

It’s annual ‘Know Your Neighbour’ weekend will be taking place on 12 and 13 July.

Agricultural Policy

Seán Coughlan (35) was elected chair of the group’s Agricultural Committee at its AGM in May. He has been a Macra member since he was 18 years old, joining while studying at Mountbellew Agricultural College in Galway.

Coughlan runs a 150-cattle farm in Ballina, Co Mayo – which he inherited when his father retired in 2007. He is currently making the transition from beef to dairy farming for financial reasons.

He is a member of Addergoole Macra and said he has met hundreds of people through the organisation and would strongly recommend joining to anyone – regardless of their background.

There’s much more to Macra than farming. For me it gives you life outside of the farm.

Members of the Agricultural Committee regularly meet their European counterparts to discuss policy formation.

The group conceived the Single Farm Payment Top-Up for young farmers. For the first time in the history of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) there is now a chapter dedicated to young farmers which consists of a mandatory top-up on direct payments in their first years of farming.

The June 2013 CAP agreement provided for a mandatory 25% top-up on Single Farm Payment for new farmers under 40 years of age for their first five years of setting up a farm.

A former Macra president, Alan Jagoe from Cork, is the current vice president of CEJA, the European Council of Young Farmers.

Age crisis

At a CEJA meeting in Finland last February, Coughlan said that a number of issues were discussed including milk quotas, training and the “age crisis” in farming.

He noted that less than 6% of farmers in Ireland are under the age 35; with 28% aged 65 and over. The average age of a farmer here is 68 years old.

This has led to a land shortage for younger people who wish to pursue the profession.

Aside from policy making, Coughlan said that Macra also has a “very active social scene”.

You could be at something seven times a week if you wanted to.

macra surfing

He added that an important aspect of the group is that it enables people from rural and urban areas to meet.

‘Lots of hobbies rolled into one’

Patricia Hughes (33) is a member of Treble R Macra (Ranelagh, Rathmines and Rathgar) in Dublin.

She is from a farming background but now works with Awas Aviation Capital.

Hughes has been a Macra member for about six years. During this time, she has taken part in public speaking events, variety shows and volunteer work.

Last week, she and some fellow Macra members attended the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh.

It’s a social thing, lots of hobbies rolled up in one … There’s something for everyone. It’s easy to find something to do, it’s a nice way to pass time.

macra football

Hughes, who is a former chair of Dublin Macra, said she didn’t know any one in the organisation when she joined, but has made several friends since she did.

The variety of people that you meet is so vast: farmers, dentists, people with office jobs. It exposes you to different ways of life and opens your mind.

One of her favourite Macra events was a ceilí held in Dublin city. “It was fantastic. I’d never actually seen a ceilí before.”

Hughes knows of a few couples who met through the organisation, noting: “That’s part and parcel of when you have young people coming together.”

It’s a very positive experience and I’d recommend it to anybody. You can join on your own and never really feel alone.

“Coming to the first meeting on your own can be daunting but everyone makes a really big effort,” she said.

Read: How to get to Know Your Neighbour

Opinion: Irish farmers must stand up for change – or else sleep with one eye open

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