Promoting positive mental health among farmers and rural communities will be a key focus for the new president of Macra na Feirme.

Dairy and beef farmer John Keane (29) who farms with his father, Martin, in Errill, Co. Laois, was a co-founder with Jonathan Dwyer, of the ‘Make the Moove’ initiative in 2018.

As part of the programme, Devil’s Bit club and north Tipperary Macra held various workshops to allow people the chance to discuss and support one another in a safe and open environment.

The sense of isolation and loneliness felt by many farmers when they started the initiative has been exacerbated by the pandemic, according to John who is the current national chairperson of the Macra na Feirme board of directors.

‘Make the Moove – Farmers Matter’ aims to challenge farmers to think about how they approach their work, wellbeing and personal lives.

“Over winter, we developed mental health kits which provided people with information about the services available for those struggling with their mental health, as well as tips on managing stress,” John began.

“The programme has branched out to the whole county and is being also rolled out in Roscommon.

“We are working with the HSE and are hoping to reach out to more people through the development of a special farmer mental health training programme,” said the former chairperson of Macra’s agricultural affairs committee.

“We have identified 20 farming champions in Tipperary for a train-the-trainer programme and they will pass on this knowledge to farmers in marts, co-ops and other places.

“There are fantastic supports out there and we want people to avail of them. It’s important that we break down the stigma surrounding mental health difficulties and encourage people to build good relationships with themselves.

Anxious to see a return of members to activites, John said his key objective is to be a strong advocate for young farmers.

“The next round of CAP will be up for review in the next few years and I will be putting forward the views of Macra in relation to that, working with our European partners,” he said.

“Generational renewal and ring fencing of funds and supports for young farmers will be important.

“Rural youth will be high on the agenda. Huge work has taken place on the issues affecting rural young people such as rural broadband; remote working; health and inclusivity.

“If rural communities thrive, more young people will establish their homes there,” he added.

Encouraging more female involvement

Encouraging more women to get involved in Macra will be another priority for the new president.

“Family farming has moved on from automatically having the males in the family take over. In our region, many of our female members are actively involved in farming.

“It’s hugely important to get different perspectives and experiences in clubs. Encouraging more women to join Macra is something I will definitely foster. We have been very strong in encouraging women to get involved in Macra over the years and that is something I am proud of and will continue.”

The sixth national president of the organisation from Laois, he has held many positions over the years. He joined Devil’s Bit Macra in late 2014.

“A few of the lads from my secondary school – Our Lady’s in Templemore – inveigled me to to go to a seven-aside football tournament organised by Macra in Limerick, and I joined the club after that,” John said.

After serving as club chairperson and secretary of the Young Farmers’ Development Group in 2016, the Laois man quickly moved up the ranks of the organisation.

He will take over the reins as president at the Macra AGM next month.