‘My mother was an inspiration’: New North Cork IFA chairperson

Growing up, the newly-elected chairperson of North Cork Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Anne Baker had a strong role model in her mother, Eileen, who did an enormous amount of work on the family dairy farm in Ballindanagan, Mitchelstown.

“My father, Eugene, had very bad arthritis, and I remember my mother was very much the farmer. She was very much hands-on; a wonderful woman. Women are the driving force on many farms.

“The man may be considered the farmer but, quite possibly, the woman is the driving force. A lot of women are there, encouraging, supporting, doing the milking, calf-rearing, herding and paperwork,” she said.

“As children, we all helped out on the farm, but nobody else wanted to take it over,” said the north Cork woman, who farms on her own with the support of family. She made the decision to switch to beef farming in the early 2000s.

“The farm needed a major investment and I wasn’t sure I was going to continue in dairying. I made the change mainly for quality of life reasons and it works for me as I don’t have any dependents. You couldn’t sustain an income for a family on a beef farm today. It’s a struggle to make an income as a beef finisher.”

Getting out of farming never crossed her mind.

I love animals and the land – I have a fierce attachment to both. I will stay farming as long as I can but you are so dependent on direct payments from Brussels.

“It’s important that direct payments be retained to give a sustainable living to farmers. There is a real fear that the CAP budget will be reduced but farmers need all the support they can get. Payments are decreasing every year and any reduction as a result of CAP would have a detrimental effect on incomes.”

One of her key priorities is keeping people in farming, noting that farmers in all sectors are constantly keeping an eye on their cost bases.

Farm safety is, she said, a critical issue, adding that it is of great concern to all farmers and the need for more vigilance has to be highlighted.

Labour shortages on Irish farmers are also of concern. “Moving into the busy spring period is a very stressful time, and it is vital that help is available between then and early summer.”

The stricter rules on slurry spreading for derogation farmers will cause practical difficulties for farmers, Anne contended. Under new rules, 50% of all slurry produced on a farm under derogation must be applied by June 15. After that date, slurry may only be applied using low-emission equipment.

She sees this move as adding huge extra costs. Farmers who hire contractors to spread slurry will have difficulty in securing them at a time of year when they will be cutting silage, she said. Climate change is seen as an another important topic.

Women have had a strong presence in North Cork IFA in recent years. “Mary Twomey Casey was the first female chairperson of North Cork IFA and is currently dairy chairperson in North Cork, and I’m just following in her footsteps,” she said.

“Nora Sheehan is vice-chairperson of the National Potato Committee and chairperson of the North Cork Potato Committee, and Sheena McCarthy is chairperson of the [regional] sheep committee. Anne O’Connor is chairperson of the farm family committee, and I was secretary before being elected chairperson.”

Anne pointed out that this year there will be four women on IFA National Council for the coming year.

From my own point of view, there is nothing stopping women from becoming involved in IFA. If you are passionate about farming and have an interest in lobbying, just go along to your local branch.

Time is a major consideration Anne said, warning that anyone interested needs to have the time to commit. However, she added that – if someone is genuinely interested – they will make time.

The chairperson said that all her experiences in farming have been positive. “I have never found being a woman to be a hindrance. People have always treated me with the utmost of respect. Farming is a great occupation though it can be a lonely one.”

Rural isolation, she said, is a big problem – although there is support available through Pieta House and helplines. “Neighbours also need to keep in contact with one another. There was always that tradition of keeping an eye out for other people in rural areas and I am lucky that I have great neighbours.”