Limerick farmer is cream of the crop
‘I love the life, it just doesn’t feel like work’
Dairy farmer of the year Edward Fitzgerald with his father Michael and ashling the Cow on his farm in Kilmallock.
Edward Fitzgerald loves his job. Really loves it. This makes it slightly easier for him to bound out of bed when his alarm goes off at 5.30am.
He is a dairy farmer – but not just any dairy farmer. Earlier this week he was named the State’s top dairy farmer in the National Dairy Council and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards. It is the highest accolade for dairy farmers and was described by former winner Alan Gillis as the Sam Maguire of farming.
Mr Gillis went on to lead the Irish Farmers Association and become an MEP but Fitzgerald (40) is happy to focus on his cows. It must be in his blood, as he is the fifth generation of Fitzgeralds to farm at Tobernea, near Kilmallock, Co Limerick.
“We started leasing the land back in 1875 and then in 1903 we bought the farm for £1,550,” he says. “I was always going to farm. There was nothing else in my mind.”
His father Michael (66) was still a young man when Edward left school so he was encouraged to get some off-farm experience by studying engineering. He worked in engineering for a few years while farming part time until he began farming full-time alongside his father five years ago.
“I love the life. The hours are long but if you are doing something you enjoy, it makes no difference what kind of hours you work,” he says. “It just doesn’t feel like work. Even last year, as bad as it was with weather, I would prefer to be farming than in an office situation.”
What is it about farming that gets him out of bed? “You’re outside. You’re kept busy all day. You are always thinking of ways to improve the farm. We are very proud of the way the farm looks here and we do an awful lot of work in making sure that it looks good at all times. And we are very proud of our herd.”
He milks 70 cows and, like the Fitzgeralds, the herd goes back generations.
“We know every cow individually and have done so for years. We know the generations behind her as well and every one of her relations in the herd. We might notice a little quirk in a heifer and remember that, while her mother didn’t have it, her grandmother did. In the last 20 or 30 years, all we ever bought in was two cows.”
He supplies Kerry Agribusiness and most of the milk is used to make cheese.
Despite being rooted in Tobernea for generations, Fitzgerald faced an uphill battle when he and his wife Olivia sought planning permission for a house after they married in 2008.