In the latest instalment of our ‘Meet the Team at Rural Support’ feature we catch up with David McConaghy.
David is from a dairy farm outside Ballymoney. He was educated at Ballycastle High School, the University of Dundee and Queen’s University Belfast. David is a former employee of the Ulster Farmers’ Union where he was Legislation, Rural Affairs and Food Chain Policy Officer.
David is currently studying for his Master’s in Social Research Methods at QUB where he is looking at the effects of debt and low income on Northern Irish agriculture. In his spare time he enjoys reading, watching sports and walking in the countryside.
Why did you decide to get involved with Rural
I worked closely with Rural Support during my time at the UFU and was greatly impressed by the work done and wanted to be part of it. Upon returning to University I began volunteering in a research and policy role, trying to use whatever skills I had picked up at the UFU to benefit the most vulnerable farmers and rural dwellers. Rural Support are unique in that they focus on the human side of agriculture and try to look behind the headlines to address the needs of the people involved.
What does your role as a volunteer involve?
I’m quite behind-the-scenes, working on research projects and policy issues. I’ve also been involved in team work with other organisations to try to deliver the best policy outcomes for farmers and rural dwellers. I can mostly work from home, but try to get up to the office every once in a while to keep in touch and figure out where to go next. I try to look out for issues which could affect farmers and rural dwellers and to add Rural Support’s voice to the debate.
What aspect of your
volunteering do you enjoy most and why?
I like looking at the bigger picture and addressing problems affecting farmers and rural dwellers in creative and original ways. For example, we have a problem with a lack of training and educational opportunities in the farming community and we at Rural Support were able to lobby the Department for Employment and Learning to allocate more resources to part-time, vocational and distance-learning opportunities.
We are also blazing a trail in Northern Ireland currently by carrying out original research to discover the real effects of the commodity price downturn. I’m immensely proud to be a part of this work and hope that it does something to help farmers and their families.
What sort of situations have you encountered
during your time as a
volunteer so far? What are the main issues?
I’m not on the front line, so to speak, in that I’m not on the helpline or mentoring clients so my experience may be a bit different to some others. However, my experience has involved meeting with other stakeholders and working on issues affecting the farming community as a whole. What has really struck me is the lack of understanding of agriculture and farming in the wider community. Being from a farm myself I naively thought that everyone understood farming, but I quickly learned that even I knew scarcely anything about say, pigs or poultry. My grandparents kept both pigs and hens and I’m sure they’d be shocked by the level of ignorance their own grandson had! I think that the general public could do much worse than to educate themselves about farming and the lives of farmers because the number of myths regarding the subject is unbelievable.
What would you say to someone who is
experiencing worry and stress?
The first thing I’d say is that you don’t have to face these things alone. There are loads of great people out there who can and will do their very best to help you, and there is no shame in admitting you’re finding things tough, and there’s no shame in asking for help. Worry and stress means all you can see are problems, and they can become overwhelming, but there are people who can help you see the solutions as well. So if you are feeling worried, stressed, or unsure where to turn then I’d seriously urge you to lift the phone to Rural Support.
What issues do you think farming families will face in the future?
Farming is in a transitional phase at the moment and all bets are off as to what happens next. Will the market be King and farmers and farm families have to deal with whatever it throws at them, or will there be a return to a more planned economy? I wish I knew.
As things stand, I see farmers being pushed ever closer to the wire with low prices and stable costs. I can also see fewer and fewer young people following their parents into the industry full-time. We need to recognise that and there needs to be an effort made to ensure that there are viable career options for farm families to bolster household incomes and ensure that the rural community thrives. At the minute everything seems to be being pushed out of rural areas, and I don’t think that’s unconnected to the problems we have now.
One thing I do know: there were farms here long before I was born and there will still be farms long after I’m dead and gone. People need to eat, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Sincere thanks to David McConaghy for this interview.
If you or someone you know could benefit from talking with someone from Rural Support or if you would like to avail of the financial mentoring currently being offered please contact Rural Support’s helpline (0845 606 7 607, 8am-11pm daily).
All calls are confidential.