Family farms are the predominant form of agriculture and their role is being highlighted as 2014 has been designated by the UN as the ‘International Year of Family Farming’, writes Ray Ryan
The mixed enterprise Calvey family farm is located four miles from Westport, Co Mayo, in the townland of Knappabeg. It is situated on an elevated site with sweeping panoramic views of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick.
Here, in this picturesque setting, husband and wife Martin and Maria Calvey, along with their children, Ciaran, 14, Conor, 13, and Aisling, 11, work together as a family on their suckler and sheep holding.
The workload on the farm is shared with everybody having a role to play in keeping the enterprises going and making them as sustainable as possible. There is, however, always time for local community activities, with all involved in Gaelic football, rugby, hurling, and athletics.
Martin remembers attending the last fair day held in Westport when he was 6, having walked cattle into town with his father Paddy.
He is an active member of both sheep and beef discussion groups, facilitated by Teagasc, and the family has also found the authority’s e-profit monitor an invaluable management tool.
Family farming, like that carried on by the Calveys, is the predominant form of agriculture both in developed and developing countries There are over 500 million such farms in the world.
Family farms are the foundations on which the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy was built, according to Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Dacian Ciolos.
“Over 95% of the farm holdings in the EU are family farms. With their diversity, they produce at the same time private and public goods.
“They ensure viable food production and also create employment. They preserve rural lifestyle and communities but also natural resources and biodiversity,” he said.
Family farms account for a major part of the 25 million people employed in the EU agriculture sector and are a key driver for growth and jobs.
Their role is now being highlighted worldwide because 2014 is designated by the United Nations as the ‘International Year of Family Farming’.
That designation was described by European Parliament member Mairead McGuinness, earlier this year, as a golden opportunity to reflect on its importance globally and in the EU.
Noting that 90% of labour on farms comes from the family, she said this reflects how important families are to the sustainability and survival of a key sector of the economy (agri-food).
“Family farming is not just an economic activity. It provides a unique structure in rural communities. These farming families are very often the drivers of community activity, community development, and community cohesion,” she said.
“But sustaining the family farm model needs particular attention in an era of relentless pressure for lower priced food in supermarkets and demands for higher delivery in terms of environmental protection and climate actions.
“Family farming will only be sustained if young people see farming as an attractive career choice and where they feel that wider society respects their choice and continues to support their model of agriculture.”
Ms McGuinness said that thankfully there is a renewed awareness of and respect for those who through the seasons and the generations produce the food we eat. It would be impossible to replace the family farm structure with any other structure, she said. A living countryside with farms operated by families is essential for food production and the provision of environmental goods and services.
Given the critical role of the family farm in Ireland, Teagasc is holding a range of activities to mark the year.
It is producing for instance a series of online videos, featuring farming families in different parts of the country.
The Calveys are the first family featured and are portrayed going about their work on their farm including a segment “Taking the Bull to the Mart”.
Further videos, featuring farm families from around the country over the course of the year, will be launched over the coming months.
Teagasc director Professor Gerry Boyle said that family farms in Ireland are confronting a host of challenges and changes arising from globalisation of food supply chains, national and international policy developments and climate change.
“We need to understand how family farms have accommodated change in the past so as to best design supports for them into the future,” he said.
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