'Within a short space of time, we were catering for groups from all over the world'
Published 03/08/2016 | 02:30
No matter where you are in the world farmers always love to talk farming. Whether it's the price of beef, new machinery or soil management, someone will have an opinion and words of advice. A problem shared is often a problem halved.
It was an idea based on this concept that Gerry and Aonghus Giggins discussed some years ago that led to Farm Tours Ireland being officially launched in 2011. The two-man team now offer bespoke agricultural and rural tours with access to Ireland's leading agricultural enterprises.
A native of Castlebellingham in Co Louth, Gerry came to the business with a considerable background in animal nutrition, having studied beef production in Holland before joining the Goodman Group in the late 1980s.
From there he joined Keenan Systems as director of nutrition and spent a number of years travelling, to some 40 countries, before finally branching out on his own as a nutrition consultant.
As the first person to develop bull feeding programmes in Ireland, he soon found a gap in the market for an advisor, and in 2007 he set up the company Nutrition Link to offer a range of packages to farmers to include feed budgeting and technical training. They now operate this in tandem with Farm Tours Ireland.
"I had been working away at the nutrition business while Aonghus was travelling in Australia," Gerry recalls. "He had studied agricultural science at UCD so had plenty of knowledge and experience when he came home in 2009."
By his own admission, Aonghus, 30, said their first group of guests with Farm Tours Ireland arrived shortly afterwards through contacts with some of the discussion groups around Ireland.
"From there it just took off and within a short space of time we found ourselves catering for groups from all over the globe. We've had people from Nepal, China and even India here to learn about our dairy production and a group from the Czech Republic saw some equipment in a butchers' shop and wanted to buy the freezers straight away."
Over the years Gerry and Aonghus have also hosted university students from the US and a group from New Zealand who returned home with high-tech farming machinery.
More recently they hosted some 200 people as part of the World Buiatrics Congress for Cattle Health in Dublin. "No two groups are the same - each package is so varied," Gerry commented. "We often find that the beef and dairy sectors here are the most popular, but we also cater for those interested in sheep, pigs and equine."
All farms visited are commercial working farms, therefore visitors get to witness the successes, challenges and on-the-ground issues experienced by the farmers within a specific industry.
Although much of their business is based in Ireland, with a view to supporting the Irish economy, more recently Gerry and Aonghus have ventured further afield and in recent weeks were part of a group which travelled to Scotland to look at grass production. Another group took them to Holland with the North East Holstein Friesian Breeders.
"We always aim to bring money into the rural community and farmers get paid for their time, so as to encourage them to host several groups during the year. We also use hotels slightly off the beaten track, especially as we've had to veer away from Dublin due to hotel prices constantly going up.
"From airport pick-ups, to hotel booking and off-farm entertainment, we offer the full package," Gerry concluded.