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Agriculture in Southwest Donegal, 1983

Updated Thursday 31st March 2016

By 1983, Irish agriculture was set within the wider context of the European Economic Community (now European Union) and not just the English market, and was the principal economic activity in Southwest Donegal.

In Southwest Donegal, and the West of Ireland in general, agriculture was, in 1983, the principal economic activity and incorporated many links between past and present and the local and wider societies. However, it had a low rate of productivity due to demographic, structural and environmental factors.

The impact of European policy

"...the area held potential to expand its agricultural output but ... this would require policy changes at both national and European levels which would recognise the key role of agriculture in maintaining rural populations." In that sense things had changed little from previous years; but, by 1983, Irish agriculture was set within the wider context of the European Economic Community (now European Union) and not just the English market. In Ireland, the policies of the EU are implemented through the national government and public administration, as are requests for special consideration from the EU. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) includes agricultural subsidies and other programmes. It has been of limited help to this area in that it has benefited mainly large commercial farmers of which there are very few in the West of Ireland and none in this area.

In the 1980s the mix of agricultural activities practised locally did not attract high levels of support. However, the West of Ireland was designated as a Less Favoured Area within the EEC; and this, plus a variety of schemes implemented through national government, provided grants and subsidies.  Many people felt that the area held potential to expand its agricultural output but acknowledged too that this would require policy changes at both national and European levels which would recognise the key role of agriculture in maintaining rural populations. 

William Fuller is a local farmer in Glencolmcille - son of Charles and Gladys who you met in the previous article
'The realities of rural life in the 1950s -1980s' - who was trying to get the most out of the land and the systems within which he operated.

Transcript: William Fuller: 'Trying to get the best out of the land'

PAT JESS

Today only one of the sons, William, farms. Despite fewer people being employed in agriculture, it’s still the main economic activity in rural areas. But more than that, farming is a way of life which influences social and political as well as economic activity.

What else do you do on the farm?

WILLIAM FULLER

That’s mainly, mainly sheep.

PAT JESS

Yes.

WILLIAM FULLER

And do a bit of cattle and…

PAT JESS

Do you grow anything?

WILLIAM FULLER

No, not really just maybe a small crop of potatoes but not much.

PAT JESS

Is that more or less for your own use?

WILLIAM FULLER

For my own use yes, that’s all.

PAT JESS

And how many acres of hay would you do or silage?

WILLIAM FULLER

Do about 30 acres, 25, 30 acres.

PAT JESS

And you’re storing that in…

WILLIAM FULLER

Some of it’s stored in there.

PAT JESS

Do you store all of it undercover?

WILLIAM FULLER

Oh yeah, all of it.

PAT JESS

Because of the weather.

WILLIAM FULLER

Because of the weather, because of the weather, that’s right.

PAT JESS

So that’s about 30 acres of hay. Is that?

WILLIAM FULLER

About 25, 30 acres usually…

PAT JESS

Is that all around this farm or do you have land all over the place?

WILLIAM FULLER

Well the land’s sort of scattered. It’s not all on this farm; down at home, over beyond over there and then up behind.

PAT JESS

William’s farm, although fragmented, is larger than most and he’s quite progressive. He has taken advantage of advice and grants available under modernisation schemes from the government and the EEC. Yet many small farmers seem satisfied with little more than subsistence and are not involved in the modernisation programmes. 

 

Art McGrath was the government’s local agricultural advisor, he talked with Pat Jess about the difficulties of small farms and the actions of the Department of Agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s.

Transcript: Art McGrath, agricultural advisor: 'Difficulties of small farms'

PAT JESS

Art McGrath is the Agricultural Advisor in this area.

ART MCGRATH

Yes Pat, these farms are small. Only 10 to 15% of them are greater than 30 acres. And as a result of that the flock size and the herd size tend to be very small. A typical farm would consist of about five animals, five bovine animals, and 48 sheep.

PAT JESS

Small farms with elderly and conservative owner-occupiers are not really viable in a modern Western economy. One way to improve incomes and living standards would be to consolidate and enlarge holdings. This has been tried, but attachment to land is so strong that ownership is not easily given up. An alternative would be cooperatives. Schemes have been tried, but now they’re mainly limited to purchasing and marketing. The most active association here is the Glencolmcille Sheep Farmers Cooperative.

ART MCGRATH

In the mid-60s the Government, the Department of Agriculture, had this as a pilot area, and we pumped in a lot of resources, human resources and money, and we developed the farms. Now a lot of work went on, hill land development and pig production was started. So what the result, there was a lot of farm produce that had to be marketed. And the system before that had been, men came to farm gates and bought the produce from the farmers, but with this new extra produce they thought that maybe with the laws of supply and demand the price would go down. So the farmers combined themselves and they thought that they would call more of the shots in what price the produce would get. So a committee was formed here in about 1970 with the view to organising sales, and they’ve been going since then.

 

Now move on to read about The Glencolmcille Sheep Farmers’ Cooperative and
Ardara Sheep Fair, 1983
.

 

See all the articles in this series

See all the series in the Change in the West of Ireland collection

This article is part of a collection on the 'Uniqueness, Interdependence, Uneven Development and Change in the West of Ireland'. To find out more about the collection, a good place to start is the introduction, Change in the West of Ireland. 

 

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