Family Farming is something that Ireland has always prided itself on and always preceded its reputation when it came to marketing our produce at home and abroad.
In full disclosure, I must admit that I did not always see why it was so valuable and indeed I often questioned why the “family farm” characteristic of Irish farming was so often touted as one of the proudest traits of the industry. It’s only in recent years that I have developed my thoughts around why the family farm model is not only important economically but much more than that it is also virtuous.
There is always a theme of a certain decade and post the financial collapse of the world economy in 2008, the main theme has been climate change. Policy permeating from proposed climate mitigation actions will have effect on most industries to a lesser or greater degree. One area that is never really higlighted in our industry is the time horizons with which farmers view their actions. A farmer tends to have a long view on what implications their actions will have on their business and the environment because after all the two are linked.
When it is levelled at farmers with phrases like “you only care about making as much money as possible off the land” as if the farmer was some plundering resource miner. The reality is farmers are constantly looking at themselves in the future and asking what effect will this action have on them in decades to come as the piece of land they steward has to be sustaining for them across decades and in many cases that same farm will sustain generations.
As farmers we are in essence always sowing seeds. In some cases the metaphorical seeds we sow have short time horizons like the dayI put the cows into a paddock where the grass quality isn’t the best, I get instant feedback the next morning in the form of lower milk yield and quality. On the other end of the scale I see the big beech trees that are planted by a previous generation on the farm and on a warm day it shades a group of cattle. The people who planted those trees knew they would never live to lie under their canopy but nonetheless they planted them for posterity sake. The virtue of leaving something for posterity is still as strong as ever as most farmers hope that the farm will be carried on by their family.
In other countries ownership of land and food production is controlled by large farming companies with no ties to the country never mind the local area. Luckily in Ireland farmers farm the land with one eye on the daily management of it and the other eye fixed towards the future. Ireland’s family farming structure imbues a sense of decency into not just how we treat our environment but also into how we go about our business as an industry.