A love of the land has always run deep in the veins of Louise Crowley, who knew from a very young age that the career she wanted involved working in the agriculture industry.
Since finishing college two years ago, she has been working with her father to manage the family farm and their dairy herd of 150.
Passionate about the care of their livestock, she abides by the motto that “our livelihood depends on their livelihood”.
In this time of Covid-19 when the public has become more conscious, and grateful, for the availability of fresh produce on supermarket shelves, farming has become another occupation taking a bow for its role in maintaining the supply chain.
“Covid-19 has most definitely put a new focus on where our food comes from,” she agrees. “I hope one positive to come from this situation is an increased appreciation of the work farmers do to keep producing high quality food for consumers even during a crisis.
"I think we’re already seeing this emerge as consumers try to support farmers by buying Irish produce and supporting local producers where possible.”
In 2020, Louise agrees it’s easier to be a woman in an agricultural career: “We have had such strong female representation over the last few years that it has been changing people’s viewpoints.
"And with the advancement of technology and machinery, the heavy laborious work on farms is slowly being made easier and making it possible for women to do all the same jobs as men.”
In a sector traditionally dominated in the past by men, Louise cites the support of family allied to personal determination as the important factors to keeping her focused on a career she always wanted.
“Knowledge sharing is an essential part of Irish family farms, and my dad has always supported me, even when I was sceptical of myself and questioning whether I could do it.
"Dad has so much experience. As much as I know, there’s always things I won’t know, and that’s why it’s great to work with dad.
"At the end of the day I wouldn’t be able to farm without him,” she adds.
Recent research from the DCU National Centre for Family Business found that there are 137,100 family farms in Ireland, representing 99.7% of all operating farms in the country.
For the majority of these farmers, the farm is their sole or major activity.
“It is a very exciting time to be a young Irish farmer,” she says. “Irish agriculture is one of the world’s leaders in sustainable farming, and I’m so proud to be part of the industry.
One of the unique aspects of Irish farming is that our cows are grass-fed and enjoy a more natural pasture-based system compared with our global counterparts. On average Irish dairy herds graze on open pastures for 240 days of the year, enjoying a diet that’s 95% grass and grass-based forage.
She highlights that Ireland is one of the most carbon efficient producers of milk in the EU, and that there has been a 9% reduction in the carbon footprint on Irish dairy farms since Bord Bia’s Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme over the last six years.
In addition, Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects report 2019/2020 revealed a record-breaking performance by Ireland’s food, drink and horticulture industry as exports reached €13bn in 2019, up from €12.1bn the previous year.
It marked the highest level of exports in Bord Bia’s 25-year history and brought to a close a decade of consistent and extraordinary growth in which food, drink and horticulture exports have grown by 67%, or €5.5bn, since 2010.
“Certainly Ireland’s global perception as ‘a green and pleasant land’ is an accurate description, and I believe it helps sell and market our products around the world.
"It’s this uniqueness combined with our focus on sustainable farming that enables our farms to stay family farms and be passed on from generation to generation while consistently producing a top-quality product.”
Louise also cites the importance of social media as another tool in the satchel of modern farming, offering instant communication with her peers: “Like most other 25-year-olds, I love social media. It’s a brilliant way for me to share what it’s like to be a farmer every day and what my job involves.
"Instagram is by far my favourite channel, very useful for staying connected to my peers and helping to spread the importance of sustainable farming. It also helps me to bust the myth that farming is a job for men only.”
Instagram offers the twin benefits of knowledge sharing and education: “We have a great farming support group chat on Instagram of like-minded young farmers and vets — both male and female.
"Everyone is willing to learn and interested in sharing and solving each other’s problems, which is great because we all work in a job that can be very isolated.”
Her involvement with the IFA, Macra na Feirme and the ICMSA enables similar conduits to the local farming community.
“The current challenging times highlight just how important it is for us to be part of a local community. I’m very lucky I have a very busy social life due to my involvement in Macra and ICMSA,” she says.
Louise has been a member of Macra na Feirme for three years and is currently county secretary for Limerick, incoming National Council Representative for Limerick and for her local club.
“There is an event or activity on every evening if you want, such as bowling, soccer, drama and nights out. Our club in Crecora Manister Croom has over 80 members, of which only approximately 10 are farmers.
"There are nurses, teachers, guards — it’s a lot of fun and a great social outlet for young rural people.”
Even after 12-hour days on the farm, she resists the urge not to attend meetings: “Sometimes it’s the last thing you want to do, but every single time I’m glad I go along — it’s a complete break away from the yard, from current problems, and I come back with a refreshed mentality.
I love being involved and somehow it seems the busier I am, the more I can manage.
While rural Ireland continues to struggle in the midst of post office closures, poor connectivity and less job opportunities, Louise notes a growing appreciation of country life and the alternative it offers to the treadmill of urban living.
“Over the last few years, we have seen a rise and fall in people entering farming as a career. It is a complete change to when I was doing the Leaving Cert and the prospect of our local agricultural college closing because they simply didn’t have the numbers applying for the courses.”
However, when the recession happened, people came back home to the farms.
“You see, that’s the thing, there’s always a job to come home to on a farm. I hope that when we come out of this crisis, the younger generation will have a newfound appreciation for what farmers do.
"And that hopefully it will lead to some staying home and becoming the next generations in the family businesses.”
Ireland’s proud history of community spirit goes hand in hand with Irish farming.
“There is no other job or lifestyle that allows a person to have such a support network available to them. And it’s certainly in times like these that we need both our farmers and our support network.”