The new chariman of Donegal IFA, Raphoe man PJ McMonagle, says as well as encouraging young people into the organisation he also hopes to use his role to help promote local produce to local consumers across Donegal.
43-year-old PJ has been involved in his family’s farm since he was a boy and says farming is “in his blood”.
He is a father of two young boys, Patrick and Thomas, with partner Lisa, who is also involved with the Donegal IFA as the recently selected representive on the Farm Family committee.
After serving as the vice-chairman in the local branch of the IFA for the last four years, last week he was selected unopposed to succeed outgoing chairman, William Monagle.
A dairy farmer and sheep breeder, he milks a herd of 120 cows and keeps 30 pedigree Suffolk sheep.
Speaking of his formative years: “The farm at home was a Land Commission farm that my grandfather got back in the early 1940’s. My grandfather and father built it up from that over a number of years. That’s a lot of generations of farming bred into us so it was something I wanted to do even when I was at school.”
He went to school locally in Raphoe at St Eunan’s National School, before moving to St Eunan’s College in Letterkenny and on to Ballyhaise Agricultural College before he returned to join his family and work the farm.
PJ says much of his experience came “hands on” as they had a diverse array of farming which grounded him in many skills.
“The five years I spent in St Eunan’s (College) all I thought about was getting home to work with cows and sheep, but I still did my time,” he laughs.
“It was in my blood from early on. At home we have dairy and sheep. We always had beef and pigs as well. My brother has taken over the pigs enterprise and I have the rest and in recent years I have done away with the beef cattle and have upped the cows. There are five in the family and it is myself and Michael who have kept on the farming and we were very lucky in that most of the farms around Raphoe started following one direction, either cows or pigs or beef, but my father was able to see into the future because he had a wee bit of everything. We didn’t have to go outside the gate to learn anything and when one type of farming was down the other was up. Over the years it was always useful to have that. We used to have over 100 cows back 20 or 30 years ago: we had 150 sows, we had a mixture of everything and there was not many doing that and we have no one to thank but mammy and daddy (Christina and Frank) for that,” PJ said.
It was there he had the choice to branch out into his current farm preference.
From an early age he began to take an interest in the workings of various farming groups and joined youth farming group Macra na Feirme as a teenager.
“When I was 18 I joined Dale Valley Macra. I owe Macra a lot for getting me on my feet and going to meetings and speaking at them. There was a lot of very good years in that,” he says.
There he met with other figures who are well known within the IFA including Keith Roulston and Seamus Quinn.
“That’s one of the things I’d like to take off again around here because it did a lot for the young people and young farmers. We had Dale Valley where I was. You had Ramelton, Donegal Town, Carndonagh. I was doing the rounds, I was chairman of Dale Valley so I got my training through them.”
It was former Donegal IFA Chairman Keith Roulston who then approached him to become involved with the IFA Farm Business Committee. “It gathered from that to where I am now,” he laughs.
Seeing the youth body rejuvenated is one of his aims as he begins his four year tenure.
He says Macra is no longer exclusively a group for young farmers but is “open to everybody”.
After becoming involved in the organisation he says he always believed he would work his way through the ranks to lead the group at some stage but admits he didn’t think it would have arrived so quickly.
“I suppose, in a way, I have. I didn’t expect to be County Chairman so quickly. I always had the notion in the back of my head that I would like to go further but I never expected to be here this quick. I had expected it to be another four, maybe eight years. I went through the IFA very quickly and I have to thank them in the IFA. They must have seen something in me,” he added. PJ is also on the committee for Raphoe Livestock Mart and has been their vice-chairman in the past.
In his new role he says he will be promoting young farmers, the local IFA organisation and also highlighting the great quality local produce available within the county.
“It would be nice to attract the young farmers out to our meetings. The meetings are attended very well over the last number of years and things are going well but looking at from my own point of view, the average age seems to be creeping up and I’d just want to do something for the next man to be chairman, or the man after him,” he says. He plans to consult with the various IFA branches in the county to see what can be done in this regard.
He says he would also like to get more publicity out to Donegal consumers to help promote local produce and would like to look into getting a regular slot on local radio to help spread this message: “It would just be for the consumer to know we are working for the consumer. We are consumers ourselves. We produce the goods be we also eat them, so I’d like to get a better understanding with the consumer and the farmer that we are the one person. We are working for the farmer to get a better price for us and also make it easier for the consumer to buy, and take the big supermarket in the middle, take the monopoly out of that. They are taking three quarters of the money. There is a piece for me and the price the consumer has to pay, but it is not being divided fairly.”