The findings of a recent project in Co. Roscommon has provided solutions to how farmers can continue to farm sustainably by through the use of co-operatives in meat and wool production.

The project, the Roscommon Farmers’ People’s Transition, began in December 2022 with an aim to listen to, and learn from, the needs and abilities of farmers in Co. Roscommon, and then design climate solutions that would benefit the community.

The project has been led by the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change (TASC) with support from AIB and was funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development.

Earlier this year, TASC involved 95 Roscommon farmers in the project, of which 65% were aged between 45 and 59, and 92% of them were male.

95% have lived in Roscommon all of their life, and 72% of participants farm a total area of less than 20ha.

A farmer spoke of how farming “is what we were born into, what we have always done, what we know” and another mentioned “most farmers aren’t out to be rich, (they want to) raise a family and have a few pound”.

Livestock farming

The symbolic importance of farming to Roscommon is highlighted by the presence of a sheep on the county’s coat of arms and the county’s GAA crest.

The importance of the livestock sector was evident in the findings of the project, particularly with the comments of one young farmer who spoke of how selling a few weanlings gives them money to fund a night out.

There was the perception that more competition is needed in the beef sector, as one farmer noted that local abattoirs were closed, resulting in “three barons controlling the beef market in Ireland”.

A further recommendation was for the coming together of farmers to create a co-operative as a way of promoting produce in Roscommon and creating more opportunities.

Speaking about the potential for cooperatives to support farmers, one farmer discussed how producers of Achill lamb had previously been “getting nothing for their stock”.

The creation of a cooperative was viewed as having a positive impact on farmers as it has increased the price they receive for their lamb.

A key challenge to the growth of organic farming was the lack of certainty regarding markets for beef production.

As described by one farmer, organic farmers are forced to sell their cattle alongside non-organic beef in Roscommon Mart and they described how “you’re slapped in the face for doing something good”.

The report determined that the growth of the dairy sector “has made it more difficult for suckler or sheep farmers to rent land” due to the “increased prices being paid to dairy farmers”.

Wool in Roscommon

As described by one farmer, while the produced in Roscommon is “top end quality” and the project determined that developing a wool processing cooperative is a solution to addressing climate action.

The market outlook for Irish grown wool appears positive, with increasing consumer demand observed over the last two years.

Wool is viewed as being a renewable resource, with wool insulation being defined in the report as being one of the “most environmentally friendly insulation materials in the world”.

One example of a cooperative in Ireland focusing on wool is the Galway Wool Co-op which formed a connection with Donegal Yarn, that agreed to purchase wool at a price of between €2 to €2.50/kg that exceeds the average market price of 20c/kg.

The report provided these solutions for creating new income streams for farmers while also having environmental benefits, in the case of enhancing energy efficiency through wool for insulation.