‘I have the suit in the car’: Food production and a wedding on agenda at Ploughing Championships

Farmers at final day of National Ploughing Championships notice change in weather patterns and nature due to climate change

From New York City to a field in Ratheniska, Tánaiste Micheál Martin made it to the National Ploughing Championships just after 2pm on Thursday afternoon, wearing a pressed navy suit and a pair of immaculate wellington boots.

“He wasn’t farming this morning, anyway,” one man offered, scrutinising Mr Martin’s footwear and watching on as he emerged from a Ford 4x4 pickup and stepped out into the sunshine.

After shaking hands with members of public and exchanging pleasantries in the Irish Farmer’s Association (IFA) tent, Mr Martin spoke to reporters about the importance of food security in the context of a global climate crisis.

“If you look at Greece, the floods recently, up to 25 per cent of arable land destroyed, that’s food production capacity destroyed. Likewise, in Pakistan last year,” he said, standing outside the Fianna Fáil tent and flanked by party colleagues.


“We’ve got to really think ahead ... to maintain food production in the context of growing, severe weather events arising out of climate change,” he said.

Closer to home, Benny Stanley (75), a retired beef farmer from Claheen, Co Offaly, said that he has noticed a change in weather patterns in his seven decades working the land.

“The weather’s after changing, I don’t know how you’d described it,” he said on Thursday morning, standing by the IFA tent.

“This is after being a fierce year ... We got a [dry] week in June. April in the spring was wetter. The crops never got a chance to grow, and then, the whole month of July [was wet].”

Making a living in agriculture is difficult now, he said, and farmers need more financial incentives if they are to continue to make sacrifices in order to protect the environment.

But regardless of the challenges, Mr Stanley said he had no interest in walking away from farming.

“It never leaves you. You might leave the land, but the land will never leave you,” he said, smiling widely.

Gladys Kavanagh (70s), a sheep farmer from Luggacurren, Co Laois, has also noticed a shift in weather patterns.

“You get the summer in May and June, you get the autumn in July and then you get some sort of a mad thing in September ... It’s harder to plan,” she said on Thursday morning, standing by a Teagasc display area.

Ms Kavanagh has also noticed changes to local biodiversity in recent years. “We used to have hares, and we no longer have hares. Never see hares.

“There is a change in wildlife, a noticeable change.”

She said that farmers are “very inventive” and would be able to adapt to the challenges of climate change – if given the proper supports.

“We need to protect farmers, because we don’t want a food shortage.”

Her son, Clive (40s), was in agreement: “[Farmers] will adapt, but there needs to be a little bit more time given to them.”

After enduring some inclement weather over the three days of the National Ploughing Championships, agricultural inventor Colm Doran was happy about the sunshine on Thursday – not least because he was due to get married that evening.

“I have the suit in the car there,” he said, standing in Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Arena on Thursday lunchtime, where he was showcasing a specialised bale lifter.

Mr Doran (36), from Tullow, Co Carlow, met his soon-to-be wife Lavina Barcoe when he was a teenager, he said.

“We’ve been together, 12 years. We were together before that, we went our separate ways there for a while, and we’re together here 12 years now ... meant to be I suppose.”

The couple considered cancelling the wedding because of the clash with the Ploughing, before deciding for the best of both worlds.

“We were nearly going to cancel it, but we cancelled it a few times before, with Covid and all that ... [but] we just decided to go for it.”

Anna May McHugh, managing director of the National Ploughing Association, was also glad to see the sun come out on the final day the Ploughing.

“Because the weather was not favourable for us the first two days it created a lot of extra work, but we managed because we have a huge team of volunteers,” she said, taking a moment in the media centre on Thursday morning.

“You have to overcome the difficulties and the problems that face you, and work towards remedying them.”

A total of 200,550 attended the three days of the National Ploughing Championships this year, down from 277,000 in 2022.

In the Ploughing competition itself, Eamonn Tracey, from Co Carlow, won the overall conventional class, with Jer Coakley, a west Cork native, taking top honours in the reversible ploughing contest.

Tommy Ennis, from Longwood, Co Meath, provided the surest sign that the weather had finally picked up on the last day of the event.

“[Today] was the best day for 99s,” he said, standing at the window to his ice-cream van on Thursday evening. “Tuesday was a write-off, Wednesday was okay, today was better.”

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher is an Irish Times journalist