Laura O’Connell is currently in her final year studying agricultural science in Tralee I.T, though this is not where her involvement in agriculture ends.
She hails from just outside Mallow, in Co. Cork where she and her family run a tillage and beef farm as well as a contracting firm. Her ‘grá; for the sector came at the ripe young age of 13, when she was thrust into the driving seat of one of the families tractors and she hasn’t looked back since.
The 21-year-old, although she is in the process of studying, still has a major role to play on the farm. The family farm just over 500-acres, between grass and tillage while they farm all continental breeds of cattle. These include Charolais and Limousin and the family buy in cattle to be finished at 30-months.
The family have recently started a new farm partnership, between Laura’s brother and father. They recently put up a new cattle shed, which will enable them to house 150 more cattle. They also put up a new machinery shed also, though the family hope to expand their cattle numbers soon.
The family grow anything from winter wheats, oats and barley. They also cut over 2,000 acres for local farmers as well. Her father's contracting business is called William O'Connell Contractors Ltd.
At the moment, due in part to her studies, Laura’s influence on the farm is minimal. Though during the spring and Summer she has a heavy involvement in proceedings, especially harvest time.
“I would have a big input during the Summertime. From the end of May onwards, once the hay and silage start...I would be drawing silage and turning hay as well as a bit of baling” she said.
“Cattle during the summer are easy enough to manage, it is just moving them from field to field. During harvest, our busiest time, I am the main driver drawing grain, “ she added.
There is one more team member helping her draw the grain, as both her brother and father are in control of the harvesters. During the Autumn, the sowing starts and although she is in college, she still makes it home to complete ploughing and sowing duties.
Laura admits she herself hasn’t faced many challenges in the industry and she says her college course is 50/50 gender-wise.
“My course is split down the middle. I thought when I first came that I would be the only girl. But when I came in, to my surprise, it was pretty much split” she said.
She said girls are now starting to realise that they too can enter the industry and it’s not just all for men. She said, while on her placement with Teagasc, she noticed a “healthy amount of women” in advisory roles or completing PHD’s.
Farming always the plan:
She got deep into agriculture at the age of 13 and admits her father “dragged her out” when she was younger.
“We were always big contractors...but I would never drive… I had no interest...But then one year dad got a new combine...and he said to me come on and thought me the basics of driving a tractor” she said.
“One day he had no driver...and from there I was hooked” she laughed.
Her interest from there continued as she began studying agricultural science in secondary school and then she decided to study in Tralee, due in part to it being close to home enabling her to help out.
From completing her placement in Teagasc, she first got the taste of what it’s like to be in an advisory role. Here she was a tillage advisor and now she sees this as a future career. She also says she might go home part-time and work at home. SHe also hopes to have her own land, to grow crops like her father.
“I’ll probably always do the few weeks of the harvest at home, as that’s what I love doing,” she said.
Why she loves what she does:
“I Just love being out driving,” she says.
“Everyday is different. In tillage there are different stages of the process...you get to be out and see different things everyday” she said.
Not only is she busy with her studies and helping out at home, but she is also a member of Marca in college.
“I joined Macra when I came to Tralee, four years ago... Hopefully when I finish up I will join the Macra at home,” she said.
When asked if she could offer advice to others looking to follow her lead, Laura was full of sound advice.
“I would tell them to have an open mind first of all...They don’t necessarily need to have an ag background. There are people in my course without one and they actually do way better, they want to learn more” she said.
She also advised to follow their education and get a degree in agriculture as she says there are “loads of opportunities” once finished college.
A busy woman already at 21-years of age, Laura has her head firmly screwed on and her eyes firmly on the prize. She is destined for a future in the industry, mark this space.