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Dublin: 3 °C Monday 14 October, 2019
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Column: ‘Compared to an office job, there is a difference’

Noel McCall broke with his family tradition to become a farmer. He tells TheJournal.ie about why he’s now better off – despite the early mornings.

Noel McCall

With the National Ploughing Championships under way in Co Kildare, farming was yesterday described as “the star of the Irish economy” by President Mary McAleese, who noted that farmers are seeing a recovery even as job cuts continue elsewhere.

Noel McCall is one of the only young farmers in Ireland who went into the profession without any family background. Here he tells TheJournal.ie how he is finding it – and why he reckons he’s better off.

MY FATHER WORKS in a builders’ providers in the town. I’ve a brother who’s into engineering, and another brother who has a few shops. But I got started working with some farmers in my summer holidays, while I was in school.

At first it was weekends during the year, then holidays, from the age of maybe 12. Then I suppose as I got older, I just got more of an interest in it. After I did my Leaving Cert I went to agricultural college, and from then I thought I’d make a career out of it. So it went from being a summer job to something I wanted to pursue.

When I was at college, there was always scouts who came over from New Zealand to recruit people to work on dairy farms. That always took my fancy, so I got over there, and stayed for two and a half years. Over there, it would be quite a common thing for people who aren’t from farming backgrounds to go into it. Because the facilities are there for people who don’t have land to go into a place – so you’d work for some older fella who would semi-retire, and you’d go in on a contract basis. I saw these fellas who were more or less their own bosses, and I thought ‘That’s what I’d like to do.’

When I came back to Ireland, there was a guy nearby in Wicklow who was fifty-odd, and had two sons who had no interest in farming. So I got in touch with him, and started in working. And now I’ve leased the whole farm from him. He got to 55 and retired completely, and I took the place and started again with my own dairy herd. The farm is just a mile from my parents’ house.

It hasn’t been easy. I had to buy everything I got. I look at these farmers’ sons, and they don’t realise how much they have. Even if it’s just their father giving them a tractor, that they didn’t have to buy.

‘I’ve probably done better than I would have done getting a wage’

A lot of my friends wouldn’t be farmers. What turned a lot of people off it was the seven days a week working. A lot of them would have finished on a Friday evening, gone on the beer for the weekend, and didn’t have to worry about work until Monday morning. Whereas I always had cows to milk. Or even if you go away for a day, you have to make sure you’ve cover there. So compared to an office job, there is a difference.

But I’ve always probably done better than I would have going out and getting a wage. I’ve a passion or something there. You do feel sometimes that it would be nice to just not have to get up in the mornings. But it’s a hard life, and it’s a good life. I would definitely say that the good outweighs the bad.

In terms of young farmers, there’s another fella over the road who’d be a bit younger than me, but looking around – other than that we’d be scarce. We go to a discussion group meeting once a month, and half the group would be guys in their 50s and 60s. Then you have a massive age gap, and there’s guys 30-35. There’s about 20 years there where there is definitely a lack of people in the industry. Ten years ago there was good money to be made building, or once you got into a bank or insurance company. And you had your weekends off as well.

A lot of the older farmers would be intrigued when they hear about the background of travelling to New Zealand. Because there’s such a hype in the local farming press about copying the New Zealand system. So they’d prick up their ears, and go ‘Well, we have to listen to what he has to say now.’

You’d hear quite a lot of negativity about farmers’ sons being forced into farming. So with my son now – my wife’s not from a farming background, and we always say whatever he wants to do, we’ll support him. Whether he wants to go work in a bank, or work in a shop, or go into farming. Too many people were forced into it in some ways – it was kind of a passion people had with land, that one son has to farm. And they were made do it. But the next generation are definitely more open-minded.

Noel McCall is a farmer in Wicklow. Macra na Feírme is the young farmers and youth organisation for 17-35 year olds; it has six key areas of activity: agriculture, travel, sports, public speaking, performing arts, and community involvement. Interview as told to Michael Freeman.

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Noel McCall

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