When John and Fiona Curran bought their 26ac sheep and suckler farm in Fordstown, Co. Meath, in 2002, people thought they were ‘stone mad.’
“You could earn what you liked on the buildings at that time. John was managing one of the top dairy herds in the country and I was working in food science with Kylemore in Dublin,” said Fiona.
“We both grew up on farms but the thinking was that you could have an easier lifestyle out of farming. We leased a small bit of land before purchasing.”
Constrained by budget, the buying process wasn’t easy and people thought they were ‘stone mad’. “It was lengthy. We thought we would never get there although we had a great bank manager in Brendan Stafford.
“Like everyone else, he thought we were mad. I didn’t tell my father until we had bought the farm. We would have liked to get into dairying but quotas were the problem and we didn’t have enough land base,” Fiona explained.
“We were pigeonholed into sucklers and started out with very little stock. In that case, you have to be good at what you do. We converted to organic in 2005 because we couldn’t make conventional farming pay.
“I had done my thesis on the viability of organic farming and we had to make the farm pay. We had commitments to the bank and also I wasn’t going to prove people right in thinking that we were mad,” she said.
“There was a lot of reseeding to do as well as rotational work. We also had to reduce our stock numbers and cubicles had to come out.
“We went from a very small amount of straw to a phenomenal amount.”
The couple maximised the use of a new shed by going into organic turkeys and grain. ‘We have a lot of our own straw and we supply Flahavans on a contractual basis. Everything has to pay for itself.”
While consumers may have boosted sales of organic food during lockdown, Fiona said that the factories are not passing on the benefits.
“We had a producer group set up but the contract wasn’t renewed. We supply Slaney Meats now.
“There is no competition to the factories and I don’t think that Bord Bia is being proactive about markets.
“You really have to supply consumers directly at the moment and we’re not in a position to do that. We sell boxed lamb during the summer, taking orders around now but there is too much going on to be able to get into direct selling.
“John has his own fencing business and is chairman of Meath IFA [Irish Farmers’ Association] which takes up a lot of time.
“There are very few breaks during the year with turkeys, calving and lambing. We like to stay small and do things 120%. It’s not about quantity,” said Fiona.
Farm Family Committee
She was recently elected as chairperson of Meath Farm Family Committee. Keen to harness the wisdom of longstanding members, she is focused on issues such as pensions for farming women and the Fair Deal scheme.
“I would dread to think that having worked on the farm, that my work would not be recognised,” she said.
“Sheila Fitzpatrick was chairperson for the last six years and she did a phenomenal amount of work so I would like to build on that and on the work of all the women before me.
” It’s also for my girls who are aged from 13 to 20. They are all involved in helping out on the farm,” Fiona said.
“The camaraderie at meetings which we haven’t been able to hold over the last year, was always great. I am hoping to set up a few Zoom meetings and we would like to welcome new members.”
Despite the challenges, and perhaps being considered ‘stone mad’, the Currans are happy with their new lifestyle. “There are days when you think it would have been easier to stay working, with a wage at the end of the week. It’s about what you’re comfortable with.
“John bred very good cows and invested in a breeding programme but this lifestyle wouldn’t be for everyone. I often get 2:30am calls to go out to the yard when something is wrong.
“I do the mornings and John does the nights. You can’t close the gates and just take off on holidays. We swam against the tide but this is right for us.”