Taking a break from dairy farming can make a person return more focused and motivated than ever, according to the recent winner of the Teagasc/FBD Student of the Year award.
Shane Fitzgerald, who recently took home the award, is from Portlaw in Co. Waterford and he farms alongside his father.
The 26-year-old dairy farmer is currently milking 165 cows on a 250ac farm, which is made up of both owned and rented land.
Fitzgerald, who studied at Kildalton Agricultural College, believes it is imperative for any young farmer to take a break to travel or to even work on another farm, in order to broaden their horizons.
Any young farmers that I talk to, they all say ‘don’t rush home too soon’. Try and travel if you can; try and broaden your horizons.
Having attained a business degree at the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and having completed the Level 6 Advanced Dairy Herd Management programme in Kildalton, Fitzgerald has made the most of the opportunities provided to him.
Shane Fitzgerald pictured alongside the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed; Chief Executive of FBD Insuranc, Fiona Muldoon; and Director of Teagasc, Prof. Gerry Boyle
He travelled to Canada as part of an exchange programme while he was at WIT; spent time in the US on a J1 visa; and also worked in New Zealand during his time in Kildalton.
“It doesn’t have to be anything to do with agriculture, it hasn’t done me any harm. I’ve got away and I’ve taken a break from farming”.
I was more focused and driven when I came back, after getting the break. Maybe if you stay at it too long, you could get driven into the ground too young and you could lose interest.
“It was probably the best thing for me – I came back more motivated and focused. I knew what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. Since then, I’ve driven on,” Fitzgerald said.
Don’t rush home too soon
The advice to spend some time away from the family farm applies even more so for young people whose parents may only be in their 40s or 50s, he said.
“They’re not going to hand over too much responsibility too soon. If you end up staying there, you could be 40-years-old yourself before you get the farm.”
You’re going to be there long enough; there is no point rushing back. In 10 or 15 years time you could have regrets about why you didn’t travel or see the world.
At the moment, Fitzgerald is keen to expand his own dairy operation in Co. Waterford.
“We are planning, hopefully, over the next five years to get up to 200 cows; that’s the aim. We would still be keeping our heifers and cutting our own silage.
“We would be aiming to stock our land out to the max. The five-year plan was to get to 200 cows by 2019.
“We’re trying to maximise what we have, we’re not renting any more land or buying more land. We’re just trying to do all the basics right,” he said.
Importance of education
According to Fitzgerald, he has his mother to thank for advising him to enrol in a business degree at WIT.
“Farming at the time wasn’t stable; there was no guarantee that you could make a livelihood out of it. I decided to a business course in WIT, I did that for four years.”
“That was well worth doing because if I didn’t do that, I may have gone straight to Kildalton. I wouldn’t have been as mature or as focused as when I came back this time.
“I was really focused, I had all my plans written down. I worked hard towards that for the past couple of years,” he said.
The newly-crowned Student of the Year highlighted the importance for any farmer to write down the goals they’re working towards, even if they never reach them.
“It makes it more likely to achieve them if you have them written down. If anyone has the interest and the passion they can achieve anything – nothing is impossible.”
In the future, the young dairy farmer intends to keep this practice up and to continue looking for ways to improve his knowledge.
“I always try to keep learning and improving. I try to get to as many farm walks and discussion group meetings as I can – you’ll always learn something.”
“I’m trying to work smarter basically and to be more efficient – not work as long hours, but still have high profits and results. It’s all about striking a balance,” he concluded.