WITH farmers in Ireland coming under increasing pressure to change their ways in the face of climate crisis, Limerick Voice spoke with a Limerick woman who has big plans to transform her family’s 143-acre beef farm in Adare.
Sami Long grew up helping her father on the 80-cow herd farm that has been in the family for nearly seven decades.
Sami has plans to change the direction of her family farm entirely from raising beef cattle to growing hemp, planting a forest and opening a farmed animal sanctuary on the land.
After years of helping to hand rear calves on the farm, one day, nine-year-old Sami questioned where these calves eventually disappeared to.
“Down the farm!” was the reply she received when she raised her queries with her father.
“They weren’t down the farm!” Sami said, laughing while looking back on her past innocence.
As soon as she made that connection – from farm to fork – she had a new lease of life.
Alas, Sami the vegetarian, who lived on a beef farm, was born.
“You have to make that connection yourself – because it’s not a diet, it’s a belief system,” Sami said.
Becoming vegetarian was the beginning before Sami became a vegan over three years ago.
Through her most recent qualification, the Green Cert, she is eligible to receive grants from the EU once she farms the land commercially for five years before ownership is transferred.
During the course, everyone had to come up with a business plan and Sami’s was slightly different to her colleagues. She wanted to grow hemp on the family farm.
Hemp is a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for commercial purposes.
It contains low levels of the psychoactive ingredient, THC, and is used to make Cannabidiol-based products (CBD).
Growing it is highly regulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority.
“It’s super regulated because it’s technically a type of cannabis, so those regulations include that it can’t be grown within a certain distance where it can be seen from the road, the strain you use has to be from a registered source and you have to have an end use for it,” Sami explained.
Aside from potentially growing hemp, as soon as the farm is transferred over to her, Sami wants to plant a forest.
The reaction to her plans has been one of shock, and Sami is often told her land is too good to plant a forest on.
There is a compulsory acquisition of farm land by the State for the building of the Adare bypass and part of the new road will be built through Sami’s family land.
She wants to “counter the amount of pollution that’s going to be in the area and also create a natural boundary” where one day she hopes to have animals thriving.
“I can’t grow hemp if there’s a motorway ten metres in the air looking down at it!,” she laughed.
“So, in the five years when I have to farm commercially, I want to establish avenues of income that will help support the farmed animal sanctuary that I want to open,” she continued.
There are afforestation grants available and the income from growing a forest is received after 12 to 14 years when the trees are thinned.
But, what will happen to the herd of 80 cows?
Sami said it depends on how many are in the herd when she is transferred ownership of the farm.
“There’s lots of shelters for cats and dogs, there aren’t that many for farmed animals.”
She intends to find a sanctuary for the cows, put them in it and start working on opening her own sanctuary, which they might come back to.
Under the farm transfer, Sami has to live there and spend at least half her working time farming the land, which suits her as she works remotely.
Another dream of hers is to grow oats for Flahavan’s, an Irish milling company.
“As well as thinking of ways we can use the land for non-agricultural purposes, we still need to sustain our agricultural industry in Ireland,” she added.
Sami has her family’s full support. Her father, Derek, a full-time vet, is delighted to see her taking over the farm.
She might be making some big changes but doesn’t feel that her style of farming will affect any traditional industries just yet.
“It’s not big enough yet. People respond to demand. Like hemp, there’s not enough demand for it,” she said.
So, in the years to come, you may drive down the new Adare bypass, see the beginning of Sami’s forest, a sanctuary of saved farm animals, and you might even see some hemp.
Just not too close to the road, of course.
Limerick Voice 2019 newspaper is available today in all copies of the Limerick Leader.