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Farming as a Career, Ray Ward '51

Where are they now..

May 1, 1957
Farming as a Career, Ray Ward '51 - KnockUnion.ie

Author, Raymond Ward

IRELAND, being an agricultural country, depends mainly on farming and its connected industries for subsistence. Because of this fact, and since there is little likelihood of any change in this pattern occurring in the near future, farming would appear to be an attractive career. Yet with the flight from the land gaining in momentum each year, and a consequent dwindling of our rural population resulting, the boy about to leave school might be pardoned if he were tempted to wonder what prospects farming could hold in store for him. In spite of this I would not hesitate to recommend an agricultural career to anyone who possesses the qualities necessary for success in any walk of life with one additional quality. In my opinion the additional quality required is a genuine love of the land ; without this I don't believe success, in the true meaning of the word, is possible. Add to this a capacity for hard work, intelligence, a sound education and perseverance—qualities which the great majority of successful men everywhere possess.

Education in particular I cannot stress too much. It is one of the great needs of agriculture in Ireland today. The farmer must be sufficiently educated to enable him to assimilate scientific knowledge and to put it into effective practise on his farm—and farming is ever becoming more scientific, more technical, as the years pass by. Only in this way can farming become more intensive and production be increased. This is particularly important on the smaller farms to enable their owners to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. Any boy who has passed through a secondary school, and who has attained a reasonable standard of education in so doing, should have a firm foundation on which to build a successful agricultural career. What a pity it is, though, that more of our secondary schools do not include agricultural science as an optional subject on their curriculum. The majority of our future farmers, however, do not enjoy the advantages of secondary education and must be content with a national school education. This, in most cases, comes to an end when the pupil has reached fourteen years of age— too young an age to finish school at, and a contributing factor to the poor standard of farm husbandry prevailing in the country.

There are many different ways of setting out on a farming career. If a boy comes of a farming family, he may elect, upon leaving school, to start working on the home farm along with his father, eventually to take over the running of the farm or to start out on his own when he has gained sufficient experience. On the other hand he may prefer to take his university degree in agriculture or spend some time in an agricultural college. An alternative would be to serve an apprenticeship with a farmer, or a number of farmers, learning from them and at the same time being remunerated for work performed. For a boy with no farming background this last, or an agricultural college course would be the best means of obtaining practical experience. The main difficulty will be encountered when the young man decides he would like to possess his own farm. Not every father is sufficiently well off to be in a position to buy a farm for his son and consequently it may take a considerable number of years, and much saving, before the son can become independent—an understanding bank manager may also help greatly. Many young men having obtained their degree in agriculture, or gone through an agricultural college take positions as farm stewards until they can afford to purchase their own farm.

It is interesting to note that at present the National Farmers' Association and Macra na Feirme are working out details of an apprenticeship scheme whereby young farmers would " serve their time," lasting about five years, on selected farms. If, at the end of this period they are considered to have gained a sound knowledge of agriculture, farms might then be made available to them through the Land Commission or through some other scheme. These proposals, however, are only at the formative stage and nothing concrete or final has as yet been put forward.

Any prospective young farmer would be very well advised to join a branch of Macra na Feirme if there is one within reach of his home. The wonderful work done by this organisation on behalf of the farming community, since its inception thirteen years ago, has not always gained the recognition it deserves. The aims of Macra na Feirme are threefold—social, educational, and to instil a love of the land in our people. Life in many a rural district has immediately become brighter, and farming methods much improved, upon the formation of a new branch. The people of the surrounding district get an opportunity of coming together and of meeting each other at the many social functions that can be held such as dances, card drives and question times, to mention but a few. The educational side is taken care of through lectures—all of which need not necessarily pertain to agriculture— film shows, practical demonstrations, farm walks and others. Country dwellers seem to be naturally shy of standing up to speak in public, and the many public speaking contests and debates organized within the movement teach them, first of all, to think for themselves and then to express these thoughts clearly and with confidence. In most parts of Ireland there are too few agricultural instructors in ratio to the number of farm holdings. Consequently the instructors can not possibly visit every farm as often as is desirable. Through the medium of Macra na Feirme branches this drawback is overcome to an extent, as the local advisory officer can address the farmers of the district assembled in their clubrooms, and answer their questions on the many problems constantly arising.

Even in a country as small as Ireland farming and farm methods vary considerably from county to county and from farm to farm, thus affording outlets to men of different talents and temperaments. I have no intention of advising anyone as to the type of farming he should follow—there are too many factors involved. I will be content merely to mention that the more predominant factors which may influence a man towards one type of farming as opposed to another would be previous farm experience and background, size of farm, availability of capital and of labour, type of soil, prevailing prices for farm produce and the situation of the farm with regard to marketing centres. The good farmer, whatever his system, will keep it flexible enough to allow him to meet the constantly changing demands of the consumer.

Last summer I spent six months living and working on farms in the United States under the International Farm Youth Exchange Scheme. I stayed on nine farms in two states—Virginia and Kansas, and I travelled through twenty other states. These farms ranged in extent from 100 acres to 5,000 acres. My experiences convinced me that the farmers of this country have much to be thankful for as regards fertility of soil and climatic conditions. We grumble frequently about our damp climate but I think we might come to appreciate it more if we realised the difficulties that farmers in other parts of the world have to contend with. One farm on which I staved in Virginia had been struck by a hurricane a few years previously and damage to the extent of $70,000 resulted. The part of Kansas in which I lived has suffered from four years of almost continuous drought and other parts of this state have been dry for the past seven years. Crops have been poor ; in many cases a complete failure. As a result many farmers have been forced to sell some or all of their stock as they have nothing to feed them on. One incident in Kansas I shall always remember. While driving along through the countryside one day we came across a field of maize covering about fifty acres. Owing to lack of moisture, and with constant exposure to a blazing sun, the whole" crop had been scorched almost to the ground and nothing remained but the charred stumps and a few withered and twisted brown leaves. Also, in most parts of the U.S. soil erosion, whereby the valuable top soil is washed away by rain, or blown away by wind, is a constant enemy against which the farmer must ever be on his guard.

Farming in Ireland, of course, poses its own peculiar problems, but generally speaking it can be said that our climate is favourable and the fertility of our soil is high." Under these conditions farming can be a satisfying and rewarding career provided one keeps in mind the fact that there is always room for further improvement and that success comes only through hard work and after many setbacks and difficulties have been encountered and overcome.