Building a 'cathedral of cheese'
Going organic has been a rollercoaster ride for Ralph Haslam who made the switch from conventional dairy farming to organic in 2000 and then took the leap into producing organic cheeses, yoghurts and bottled milk as the recession struck in 2009.
"It was hard at times but I have no regrets," he said last week as he collected yet another award for his Mossfield cheese brand at the Irish Food Writers Guild Awards in Dublin.
Earlier this year the Haslams carried off another prestigious prize at the Randwick cheese festival in Britain from what Ralph likes to describe as the family's "cathedral of cheese", on the 240ac family farm outside Birr.
The Haslams have been farming in Offaly since the 1940s when Ralph's father produced cattle for the Dublin Mart. They persisted with beef until the nineties when they converted to dairy and then went organic in 2000 and up-skilled to cheese production in 2009.
Ralph is a passionate supporter of the organic sector and sees the future for Irish farmers in niche rather than mass market commodity production.
"We should be producing niche agricultural products with a higher domestic and export value than being commodity producers. This is what the market wants, especially in beef where the Irish organic beef product produced on grass is of the highest quality in the world," he says.
In the dairy sector for instance Ralph predicts that the milk price will drop to 19c/l and will stay there for a considerable time because of volatility in the international markets, especially China, for 'our white gold'.
He also points out that the increasing emphasis internationally on non-GM agricultural produce will have consequences for our commodity driven agriculture.