Darragh McCullough’s Return to Full-time Farming ‘I never was able to shake the disease!’

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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From RTÉ’s Ear to the Ground to full-time farmer, Darragh McCullough is one presenter who certainly walks his talk.  He joined Sean O’Rourke to talk about his exit from journalism and his return to the farm.

“I suppose I never was able to shake the disease, Sean!  Before I became a full-time journalist, I was a full-time farmer.  I hit a couple of bad years, a couple of bad crops and harvests and I was making nothing on the farm.  I had opportunities in the media and I went for them!”

Darragh transitioned easily back into farming life, returning to his native Gormonstown in Co. Meath.

“The last year has been very satisfying.  When people ask me I say when it’s good, it’s great, working for yourself, but when it’s bad, it’s awful.  I don’t have more money in the account and the pension plan has disappeared but it’s the old disease of being a sole trader, doing your own thing, making the most of the farm you have at home.”

Darragh’s focus is on an “oddball crop” of onions, garlic, shallot and acres of flowers, including daffodils, sunflowers and peonies.  Work starts around 7 o’clock each day and it’s not all physical labour – with supermarket tenders to be taken care of, there’s a lot of office work on the to-do list.  One thing Darragh wasn’t expecting, however, is the amount of red tape that farmers within the Single Farm Payment Scheme have to navigate.  Darragh thought he’d be well up for the challenge, having spent the last decade eating, sleeping and drinking farming news, but the reality was somewhat more daunting than he had anticipated.  It comprised of “two hundred pages… of correspondence, very detailed, quasi-legalese correspondence from the Department of Agriculture, reams and reams of maps.”  Darragh has also come a cropper of the rules and regulations during inspections, receiving a whopping €3154 fine for forgetting to tag one of two pet sheep.

“That’s what the rules say but I was kind of like, hang on a second, my main enterprise here is growing crops.  I grow 250 acres of crops and you’re going to fine me €3000 for a pet sheep that didn’t have a tag in its ear!”

Darragh is a member of GLAS, The Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme aimed at addressing environmental concerns within the farming community.  Something he has become very interested in is the idea of solar panels.

“If you drive through England or through the continent, you’ll see shed after shed with solar panels on top.  Solar panels have dropped in (cost) by over 90% in the last 10 years so I can (put) €50,000 worth of solar panels up in my sheds and they would generate about 20% of my annual electricity supply…  If I could get a little grant towards the panels, it could be a payback of €5000 or €6000 a year, which isn’t a bad return on a green energy investment!”

For more from Today with Sean O’Rourke, click here.

© The Listener 2017

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