‘Females in farming are like an untapped oil well’

Maternity supports need to be put in place for female farmers, according to the deputy president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), Lorcan McCabe.

Having taken up the role in December of last year, the Co. Cavan dairy farmer has highlighted his two main ambitions are to encourage more women and young people to get involved in the ICMSA, and farming in general.

With three daughters of his own, as well as a son, McCabe believes that women are as capable as any man when it comes to farming. All of his children have grown up working on the farm, from feeding calves to milking cows; they’re all accustomed to the pit.

In a lengthy interview with AgriLand, McCabe described how he and his wife, Brid, encouraged all of their children to work hard and gain practical experience.

I showed my eldest daughter how to weld. I said to her, ‘some day you could be in a situation where you might be in the middle of the Sahara Desert and something has to be welded or fixed there and you’ll be able to do it’. They all have a bit of practical experience.

But, ICMSA’s deputy president believes maternity support measures need to be put in place to assist female farmers.

ICMSA deputy president Lorcan McCabe

“It will be something I will be pushing in the ICMSA. There has to be something done on the maternity end of things. With farming being very mechanised now – with milking machines, front loaders and all that – females can farm unquestionably as good as any male.

“But, there has to be something to facilitate them having kids – maternity leave of some sort. I know it’s difficult, because you can’t give a farming woman more than a farming man – you have to strike a balance.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do it; I’m open to ideas or suggestions on the matter,” he said.

Young women taking over the family farm

Furthermore, McCabe told AgriLand that it “sickens him to the core” to see young women overlooked when it comes to taking over the family farm.

The mentality that the eldest son, or the only son in the family, should be handed the farm without question is outdated, he said.

McCabe believes that the farm should be handed down to the most suitable and willing successor – regardless of whether that is male or female.

I have seen the very, very best of girls bringing in and milking cows – and the lads getting the land. That’s not right. I have no place for that attitude.

“There is a fantastic role for females in farming; it’s like an untapped oil well in my opinion,” he said.

Generational renewal

In an effort to encourage generational renewal, the deputy president of the ICMSA believes that the Government should look at reintroducing an Early Retirement Scheme.

McCabe explained how he availed of such a scheme when he was starting out in his farming career.

“I would be pushing hugely for the younger generation. I would love if there were more stimulants to allow older farmers to retire and hand on the farm.

I was very lucky my father saw the need. He always said, ‘if you haven’t got it at 30, it’s no good to you’. He maintained, if you want to farm in your own right, there is no point giving it to you when you are 40, 45 or 50.

Having left school in 1979, at just 15 years of age, McCabe worked in factories for a number of years – as the family farm alone wasn’t big enough to support both him and his father.

“He gave me part of the land when I was 17; it was held in trust. I started farming full-time in about 1988 and in 1992 I took over completely with the help of the Early Retirement Scheme.

“It would be great if there was an incentive like that to give the older farmer the needed push to hand it over.

“There’s just 6% of farmers under 35 in Europe; it’s worse than crazy,” he concluded.

McCabe is hopeful that one day he will be able to pass on the family farm – which he has gradually built up over the last 25 years – to one of his four capable children.