Innovation Office's Illuminate Programme supports new initiative to enhance the social life of the farming community

Mar 01 2023 Posted: 14:44 GMT

Farmer's Yards to develop a new social organisation for the farming community

University of Galway’s Rural Studies Centre is to lead a new social organisation for the farming community with a pilot initiative at Mountbellew Livestock Mart, Co Galway called Farmer's Yards. The pilot is funded by University of Galway’s Illuminate Programme with support from St Jarlath’s Credit Union. 

Established as an opportunity to support individual farmers and fit the farming community’s collective interests, requirements and values, the initiative will run through March and April this year.

Its aim is to promote social inclusion, and in turn wellbeing, in the farming community by providing farmers in the area with a platform to come together as a local peer group in a familiar and friendly mart setting. 

The involvement of Mountbellew Livestock Mart in the Farmer’s Yards initiative is extremely important because in addition to its primary function providing a method of buying and selling livestock, the bidding ring and canteen at the mart also provides a vital social facility for the local farming community, particularly for those who have few other social outlets and may live alone. 

The project is being led at University of Galway by Dr Shane Conway, who said: “Many farmers rely on their weekly visit to the mart to meet with their friends, exchange ideas and catch up on local news. Mountbellew Mart’s existing position and reputation as a focal point of activity within the heart of the rural community essentially provides it with a ready-made platform and network to diversify its services and establish a social group membership of farmers in its catchment area through this new initiative. 

“The well-established Men's Sheds movement showcases the benefits of such a peer group at local level. The Rural Studies Centre at University of Galway believe that the Farmer's Yards social organisation for the farming community has just as much, if not more, potential to succeed. It is gender inclusive and it has an intergenerational aspect, bringing together men and women of all ages involved in farming in the form of a social hub for the entire farming community.” 

As its name suggests, Farmer’s Yards enables farmers to take responsibility and ownership of their own social interactions. It provides them with an opportunity to come together in a secure and positive environment to chat about livestock and issues relevant to their livelihoods, as well as local news and other topics of interest over a complimentary cup of tea and biscuits the evenings the mart takes place. There will also be a weekly stock judging competition of cattle as well as guest speakers and demonstrations on a range of farmer focused topics such as understanding online mart bidding platforms, interpreting Euro-Star breeding indexes, options around farm succession and tips to improve physical health and wellbeing.

Dr Conway added: “With more than one third of Irish farmers over the age of 65, this new social organisation for farmers, will also address recent calls by the European Commission for an increased emphasis on mechanisms that help older farmers enhance their quality of life by exploring possibilities under social policy. 

This is an important shift in focus, as previous policy aimed at stimulating generational renewal in agriculture, such as the most recent Early Retirement Scheme for farmers (ERS3) in Ireland, for example, requesting farmers to ‘cease all agricultural activity forever’ upon retirement and placed no regard on the wellbeing of the older generation of the farming, overlooking their identity and social circles in later life.”

The Rural Studies Centre group at University of Galway said the Farmer's Yards initiative has the potential to contribute to the older farmer’s overall sense of happiness, belonging and self-worth, amidst the gradual decline of their physical capacities as they age. It will provide a social outlet for them to remain actively involved in the farming community, because for many, farming is a way of life, not just an occupation.