Raphoe Mart Manager Anne Harkin says common sense must be brought back into farming in order to save the industry.
As she celebrates 30 years of service to the Raphoe Mart, Ms Harkin has spoken out on the current state of farming and the need for change.
“Farming has taken a twist. Everything is stacked against the farmer now. Unfortunately farming isn’t farming anymore, it’s book-keeping. The farmers can’t enjoy being on the land because it is so uniformed,” Anne told Donegal Daily.
Anne Harkin joined the mart as a secretary on a cattle sale day in June 1989. For a person with no farming background, she has come a long way. She was appointed as manager in 2002. She was the only female manager in Donegal at the time, and one of just six in Ireland. It made no difference to anyone.
“I get total respect from the farmers. Nobody has ever said to me: ‘Sure what would you know, you’re a woman’.”
It’s not a glamorous job, she says, but it is a fulfilling job and Anne has seen many good friends come and go over the years. The system however, has changed dramatically.
“I love interacting with everyone and seeing the same farmers every week,” she said.
“But the good times are gone. It is a serious business and the men’s jaws are on the ground.”
Anne says she sees local farmers suffering from the decline of rural Ireland.
“Farmers are going to become a minority. I think people need to put more emphasis in retaining farming. Regulations have now outruled themselves.
“I wish I had the answers. But rural ireland doesn’t matter to people in Dublin. That’s evident in the banks, the post offices and in farming.”
Anne says she has huge respect for the farmers she works alongside and attributes the success of the mart to the supportive customers.
“I couldn’t speak highly enough for farmers. They are working all hours to get a minimal return. The rules of this mart is you pay on the day. And I admire the farmers so much because they do this, but they don’t get wages, they have to wait on their return,” she said.
Anne also credits her brilliant team – the 15 yard workers, the three office staff members and the canteen staff led by Valerie Wallace. Mary Rose Donnelly has been Anne’s right hand woman from the very start.
In honour of her 30 year anniversary, Anne’s colleagues recently surprised her with a presentation and cake. “I couldn’t have taken this journey without the team,” she said.
Things are much different from when she took over almost 20 years ago. She remembers the ‘darkest days’ of the foot and mouth outbreak and the other times when sales lasted all day and all night.
“Some days you’d have started at 9 in the morning and you wouldn’t finish until 5 or 6 the next morning. Then you are up again for 9.
“Computerisation has taken away a lot of that work. The value is on the cattle from the minute it goes into the ring. As well as that, the cattle and sheep numbers has decreased,” she said.
Anne said that, without change, she believes the future of farming is under threat.
“There doesn’t seem to be much of a living in it for them anymore. I know there are perceptions out there with regard to people in farming. People think that farmers are grand, but they need every penny they can get.
“The world has to produce food, therefore the government has to look after the people that produce it,” she said.
Anne said that a united front is needed to back the farmers of Ireland.
“They need as much help as they can to get over this line. If the government sits back and lets the EU dictate all the time about what the farmer should be doing – common sense has to prevail,” she said.
Anne said she is not a member of any farming representative groups, but would like to see them working together with one voice.
She said: “All farming organisations should be united rather than disjointed – not one organisation looking out for the dairy farmer, the beef farmer and the sheep farmer. We are all looking for the same answers and the best outcome for the farmer.
“Let’s all work together, I think a lot of good thinking together would prevail much better.”