Search begins for Ireland’s top farmer

The battle is on to become Ireland’s top farming family – and this weekend two Cork clans pit their skills and knowledge against one another in a bid to gain the prize.

Next Sunday night, on what has become one of the country’s most popular home-grown reality TV shows, the Crowleys of Enniskeane in west Cork meet rivals, the O’Callaghans from Mallow in north Cork for the third series of TG4’s Feirm Factor.

James Crowley, 31, of Moneycrohy, a full-time farmer, and his wife Helena, 29, a second-level teacher, have their eyes on the prize — €20,000 should put a fairly sizeable dent into the cost of their recent wedding.

This is the fifth series of the IFTA-nominated show, which now features entire families from Cork, Kerry, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway, Dublin and Kildare, all of them hoping to be crowned Ireland’s top farming family.

James, a full-time farmer, who has run the family dairy farm of 120 Holstein Pedigree Cows, since he took it over nearly a decade ago, is captain of a four-strong team which also includes his brothers John, 28, and Tim, 29.

James entered the competition for the experience, he says: “We have a tight family unit here – all three brothers work very well together and my mother Breda and father Seamus farm with us as well,” he says, adding that two other siblings, Annette and Patrick are always around to help out.

“We’d watched the series over the years and I’ve often said that I’d like to try this task or that task featured on the show,” he explains, adding that he and his team are taking on everything from welding to tractor driving, dosing sheep and testing their farming knowledge in the challenging tasks set for them.

“Tim is an engineer, so he took on the welding. John is an electrician, he’s dosing the sheep – I’m driving the tractor and Helena is doing the knowledge test,” he said, adding that they all enjoyed the show, which was filmed at Darrara Agricultural College near Clonakilty.

The task they enjoyed most, he recalls, was the team task which required them to erect sheep fencing.

Filming took place in the run-up to their wedding last July: “It was a very busy time but very enjoyable. It’s a very different experience to be part of the filming and see the experience, to go behind the scenes, than that of simply watching it on TV,” says James, adding that he’s looking forward to the programme: “We’re all a bit apprehensive about how we come across because we’ve not seen ourselves yet!”

Over in Mallow the O’Callaghan team is also bracing itself for the big screen showdown on Sunday night– 21-year-old University of Limerick wood-working student Daniel and his father John run the family dairy farm of 110 cows and 50 bullocks in Mourneabbey.

Daniel’s first cousins, Don, 19, from nearby Churchtown and Donal, 23, from Adare, were happy to pitch in for the show.

Daniel initially entered the show because, he says, he thought it would be fun – dad John, 53, would never have entered it by himself he quips: “My father was never going to enter a competition like this! “But he was always very big into Macra and the competitions they ran when he was younger so I thought he’d enjoy it,” he said.

The family recently constructed a large 16-unit fullwood milking parlour, as well as 90 cubicles for the cows, and they also plan on constructing a new beef unit shed for winter feeding – the 20,000 prize would be used to help fund the construction.

“We’ve invested heavily in the farm and we like to do most of the work ourselves – we have a skill-set built up over several years and we decided we could bring that into the competition.”

For the individual task Daniel took on the dosing of lambs because he’d done it years ago on his grand-uncle’s farm, while dad John hung a large galvanised gate.

Cousin Don did the tractor driving, while his other cousin Donal took on the knowledge question. The four also worked together on their team task to erect a sheep-pen.

The families need to be at the top of their game to wow the judges — dairy farmer and veteran Feirm Factor judge, Corkman Seán Ó Lionáird, veterinary surgeon Peadar Ó Scanaill from Ashbourne, Co Meath, and organic enthusiast and former presenter of Garraí Glás, Connemara girl Síle Nic Chonaonaigh.

On hand to offer words of encouragement is new presenter, Síle Ní Bhraonáin.

“It was a bit intimidating being filmed,” recalls Daniel.

“The film crew also came to our house in Mourneabbey for the opening of the show and we were filmed feeding bulls and working on some of the tractors.”

He’s looking forward to the programme – but with some apprehension, he admits: “Everyone is going to be watching it! We’re back to college on Monday, so all the lads will be on to me about it.

“They’ll be watching – they definitely will and no doubt they’ll give me plenty of stick if I don’t do things properly!”

Feirm Factor will be broadcast Sunday January 25 at 8.30pm. Repeats Fridays 6pm.


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