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Irish Farming Colleges Thrive During Recession

Teenagers and their parents attend an open day at Pallaskenry Agricultural College, which teaches traditional courses in farming, a few kilometers west of Limerick, Ireland, March 2012.
Teenagers and their parents attend an open day at Pallaskenry Agricultural College, which teaches traditional courses in farming, a few kilometers west of Limerick, Ireland, March 2012.
Dominic Laurie

Ireland is back into recession for a second time since the start of the financial crisis four years ago. Many sectors of the economy are struggling. But one traditional Irish career has suddenly become more attractive again - farming. Agricultural colleges have seen a resurgence in admissions.

Pallaskenry Agricultural College

Teenagers and their parents at an open day at Pallaskenry Agricultural College - a few kilometers west of Limerick.

They’re watching students perfecting the art of repairing agricultural mechanical equipment - one of the specializations at the college. It also teaches more traditional courses in farming, particularly how to look after dairy herds, such a common sight in this part of Ireland. The open day is popular. There are several bus loads of high school kids coming to look around. But it wasn’t always like this. Only a few years ago, the college almost had to close. In Ireland’s boom years, farming was unpopular and the number of students reached an all-time low. John McCarthy is the school's principal.

"Agriculture was a dirty name," said McCarthy. "There was no positive future in agriculture, parents were advising their sons and daughters to do anything but agriculture. And what is I suppose extraordinary looking back at it, is how such a change could have occurred in such a short space of time, he continued, we’re at a stage now where every parent in Ireland that has a farm, and even people in urban communities are talking about, is there any way they could get into farming.”

Finding a job

John Godley, a student from a nearby high school, is looking around today. He says many of his friends are talking about moving abroad to find work. He, though, wants to stay.

"You can just go on your family farm, and you don’t have to go away to Australia looking for work - it’s handy!" he said.

Pallaskenry is not alone in its popularity. The number of students at all the country’s agricultural colleges has doubled since 2006. But it’s not just a lack of other options that’s making farming more attractive.

Global prices for beef, lamb and milk are all up. Ireland exports all of these. So even while Ireland's domestic economy struggles, many farmers are doing well.

Farming becoming attractive

John’s teacher, Paddy Mulvihill, says a career in farming is now far more attractive than a few years ago.

“There is work in farming. Those doing engineering or accounting or that area, there’s very little prospect of work - they’ll go on to college all right, but there’s no prospect of future employment, they’re taking a chance on it," said Mulvihill. "Farming is more certain at the moment, and profits have definitely increased.”

Farming can’t save everyone. Austerity, higher taxes and spending cuts are hurting. Many young people have moved abroad to find a better future.

But just as Ireland’s lambing season provides fresh hope for farmers, those studying agriculture can look to a brighter future too. That’s if they can get a place in college.

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