Letter to the editor: ‘Our over-55 farmers would have never retired in the first place’

Farmers supply what fills the supermarkets’ shelves.

Life on Northern Ireland’s farms is not getting any easier, as Covid-19 tightens its grip. Nevertheless, credit must go to front-line NHS [National Health Service] workers, carers and all of the cleaning staff trying to fight this invisible enemy – with every ounce of dedication and commitment they have.

Down on the farm nature waits for nobody; lambs and calves are born; spring work in the fields is in full swing…and must be done to establish new crops and tend to crops already growing in the ground.

The NHS is bringing retired doctors and nurses back to work, which is great to witness in an emergency such as this.

However, in the farming world, our over-55s would have never retired in the first place. The average age of a farmer in the UK is now approximately 58 years-of-age.

‘People have to eat to live’

These individuals, their families and their staff put vast quantities of food on our tables – on a daily basis. A few of the older ones – still at work – started off with horses and milking their cows by hand.

They have many stories to tell and many experiences to share…to a dwindling number of young farmers. One such lesson is that: People have to eat to live; therefore, food will always be needed and should never be taken for granted.

However, just like the Second World War, farmers across Northern Ireland are finding it hard to purchase daily farm necessities – such as repair services. Moreover, many of their local livestock markets [marts] have closed – leading to additional cash-flow problems.

As always, farmers are resilient. However, their families and workforce are also vulnerable to Covid-19 – as the evidence of new cases bears out. They, too, need staff to replace them; nature doesn’t wait!

The problem is; they are finding it difficult to recruit and pay staff of the right calibre – people that are capable of attending to robotic milking parlours; people that are able to operate modern tractors with computerised controls; people with the ability to spot a sick animal across a field; and so on.

Nor should we forget the haulage industry, which – amidst Covid-19 – collects milk from dairy farms for our kitchen tables. They, too, are trying to carry on amidst staff shortages. An army of hauliers and drivers move our food each day.

‘Hats off to farmers’

Food and drink – whether destined for a fork, spoon or cup – is the gift that farmers deliver to the masses 24/7; 365 days a year, while an NHS army tends to those who are sick. We must take our hats off to all of these people!

From William Taylor, Farmers For Action, Northern Ireland