Farm Ireland

Sunday 22 October 2017

It's the second mouse that gets the cheese

Some people have a natural talent for turning milk into high class products.
Some people have a natural talent for turning milk into high class products.
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

When producing meat, milk or corn nowadays, the margins over costs are tiny and any saving or benefit can make the difference between profit and loss.

There are however always opportunities and niche markets out there which pay premium prices to the producer. It's just a matter of identifying them and then supplying them at the lowest cost possible.

Some people seem to have a natural talent for turning a basic product such as milk in to high class cheese, yogurt or whatever. Most importantly of all, they have the skills and drive to market it successfully. To do this you need to be brave, for as Mark Twain said "A man with a new idea is a crank-until the idea succeeds."

At the moment it seems the real money is being made by our co-ops and the share price of the best of them is going through the roof. Kerrygold Butter has now reached the No 3 position in the US market, up from fifth place at this time last year with sales up by 30pc.

American consumers are increasingly aware of the nutritional benefits of choosing butter from grass fed cows and Kerrygold Cheddar is also now the No 1 cheese in dollar sales.

In the meantime, the farmer producing the basic raw material is struggling and the gap between what the producer gets and what the consumer pays is growing.

Taking the plunge and starting up any new enterprise can be daunting. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said:

"Build a better mousetrap and the

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world will beat a path to your door" but he forgot to add that it's also the second mouse that gets the cheese.

Nowadays you have to do far more than just produce something, be it food or a practical gadget that makes life easier for its users.

Without proper marketing, most new products fail.

Finding start up financial backing can be tough as is complying with the bewildering raft of regulations relating to hygiene, health and safety along with consumer and employment laws.

You have to package your product attractively and start selling it to a sceptical public who will need convincing

that it is better than anyone else's. But then nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

If it were, everyone would be doing it. Each day I ponder additional ways that might better utilise our farm and woodland. I am still considering leasing for solar panels, producing gourmet mushrooms like John O'Connell in Co Limerick or building holiday chalets in the woods.


Maybe free range organic pigs or poultry would be worth a try. Should I consider opening a nursery for specialist trees or start manufacturing gates and garden artifacts? If I were younger I just might give all of the above a go. Perhaps I am now too cautious.

One commodity that is almost being given away at the moment is wool, yet it can be made in to a high quality insulating material to replace the more commonly used synthetic fibers which are sold as rock wool or as polystyrene boards.

Wool is a super insulator. Just look at the mountainy breeds that spend their winters surviving freezing winds along with hail, sleet and snow. It also makes a great acoustic insulator and uses far less energy to manufacture than its synthetic competitor.

Nowadays a good fleece just about covers the cost of shearing so like most other farming activities, without the single farm payment we would all be in the poor house.

You will have gathered by now that I am racking my brains to see if I can come up with something that will bring in a few extra euro.

On the other hand, maybe the following recorded conversation between two men at the seashore might provide the better answer. It goes as follows:

Why are you JUST sitting on the sand by your boat?

- Because it's a beautiful sunny day.

Shouldn't you be catching fish instead of just looking around?

- Why should I catch more fish?

So you can make more money.

- Why should I make more money?

So you can get ahead - buy another boat, employ other fishermen, catch more fish....

- Why would I do that?

So you can make even more money.

- What good would that do me?

Well, after working hard and making money, you could sit back and relax.

- That's what I am doing now.

We are being fleeced on wool prices but it wasn't always the case

When wild sheep were first domesticated around 10,000 BC, they did not produce wool but had coats more like deer with a soft downy undercoat.

Gradually, the ones that showed wool-bearing traits were kept and by selective breeding, eventually the sheep we know today became commonplace and provided, meat, hides and most useful of all, wool that could but turned in to clothing by spinning.

As early as 200BC the Romans began to improve their flocks, which became the progenitors of the famed Spanish Merino sheep.

Wool then became immensely valuable and was the staple of British industry until cotton began to overshadow it in the 18th century.

Up to that time the fleece was worth far more than the meat.

The collapse in the price of wool began in late 1966 and since then the price has tended down.

But quality woolen garments have never lost their appeal and still command higher prices than their artificial counterparts.

In 2007, a new wool suit was developed and sold in Japan that can be washed in the shower, and which dries off ready to wear within hours with no ironing required.

It was developed using Australian Merino wool, and it enables woolen suits, trousers, and skirts, to be cleaned using a domestic shower at home.

Does this mean we can now shower while fully clothed?

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