Saturday 29 April 2017

Living off the fat of the land: Ireland's richest farmers

Top 20 payments from the EU average over €250,000 in 2015

Larry Goodman and his family have by far the largest EU farm payment in Ireland, not because they are Ireland’s biggest landowners, but because they are Ireland’s biggest feedlot owners Picture: Steve Humphreys
Larry Goodman and his family have by far the largest EU farm payment in Ireland, not because they are Ireland’s biggest landowners, but because they are Ireland’s biggest feedlot owners Picture: Steve Humphreys

Darragh McCullough and Sean Duffy

One of the country's richest businessmen, Larry Goodman, tops the Irish Independent's Farm Rich List with an annual EU farm payment of €483,753, despite successive attempts to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to make it more equitable.

The Goodman family, whose beef empire went into receivership in the 1990s, have clawed their way back into a fortune estimated to be worth over €700m.

Their massive feedlots on their farms near Castlebellingham in Co Louth were pulling in hundreds of thousands of euro in headage payments from the EU.

As Brussels bureaucrats tried to reform the system, these payments morphed into area-based subsidies.

It is the same reason that many of the top 20 recipients of what are now called Basic Payments are farmers and businessmen that own large feedlots that fatten thousands of cattle annually.

However, large tillage farmers have been the other big winners in the EU's farm subsidy regime. The largest have tended to be farmers that were growing large areas of potatoes, with the O'Sheas in south Kilkenny, and the Meath potato princes Reynolds and Smiths featuring prominently.

For a system designed to keep small farmers on the land it is extraordinary that the top 20 payments out of CAP in Ireland average over €250,000, especially when compared with the average farmer's payment of €12,000.

These were the amounts paid out in 2015, but with the latest reforms to CAP they are expected to decrease, before being finally capped at €150,000 per recipient.

Here we list the top 20 on the Rich List based on the annual EU farm payment they received in 2015.

1. Glydee & Branganstown Farms - Larry Goodman and Family, €238,740 and €245,013 (in EU farm payments in 2015)

The Goodmans have by far the largest EU farm payment in Ireland, not because they are Ireland's biggest landowners, but because they are Ireland's biggest feedlot owners.

Larry Goodman's home is on the 850-acre Branganstown farm five miles west of Castlebellingham in Co Louth, but it is the 1,100-acre farm at Kilsaren with a feedlot capacity for nearly 8,000 head of cattle at any one time that has really turbo-charged the subsidy payments for the country's largest beef processor.

It's believed there's an extra 350 acres at nearby Dromiskin, which would bring the beef baron's land holding to well over 2,300 acres. Despite making most of his money from cattle, Larry Goodman has never kept any significant numbers of suckler cows, so most of the land is farmed as tillage.

The teetotaller has never been far from controversy, with the latest spat being between his ABP processing company and the Irish Farmers' Association over his attempt to buy out a stake in one of the country's main beef factories - Slaney Meats in Wexford.

Despite going into examinership in the 1990s, Mr Goodman has clawed his way back into a fortune estimated to be worth over €700m, with large interests in private hospitals in Dublin and Galway.

2. Walter Furlong, €389,640.26

The Wexford native has built up a vast grain production business with his partner Kevin Cooney from a base in Caim, in the heart of Wexford's tillage area.

In addition to the Cooney Furlong Grain Company, the Enniscorthy man branched out into retail in 2013 when he bought three stores from Wexford Co-op in Enniscorthy, Wexford and New Ross. He has subsequently added a machinery franchise to his range of products for farming.

Mr Furlong farms around 3,500 acres of land in his native Wexford, with the majority of this secured on long-term leases. Malting barley is a key crop, with all the land in tillage.

Walter Furlong
Walter Furlong

The Cooney Furlong Grain Company's most recent accounts show assets of €9.2m for 2015.

3. O'Shea Farms, €329,913.59

Owned by Richard, Thomas, Joseph and Seamus O'Shea, the latest company filings for O'Shea Farms from 2012 reveal the company had net assets of €9.7m.

Thomas O'Shea
Thomas O'Shea

While Richard concentrated on dairying, the rest of the hard-working brothers built up a business that handles close to 37,000 tonnes of carrots, potatoes and other fruit and veg under the moniker of Iverk produce.

Through their partnership with fresh produce heavyweights, Total Produce, the company has a turnover believed to be more than €25m.

In 2013, the O'Sheas sold 170 acres to Coolmore's Aidan O'Brien to build a state-of-the-art €3m carrot processing line.

4. Patrick Reynolds, €267,129.82

The Navan-based potato prince has successfully combined farming and football to reach the pinnacle of both. While Patrick and his son Paddy share the rare honour of being a father and son that have won both All Irelands and All Stars for their county, it is their agricultural achievements that impress farmers most.

Their potato operation is regarded as one of the biggest in the country and, combined with grain, covers more than 2,000 acres of the Royal county's deep, fertile soils.

5. Tomas Codd, €261,722.66

The dairy farmer from Wexford is one half of M&T Codd which received €261,722.66 from the EU in the single farm payment.

The latest accounts for the company up until March 2015 show net assets of €1.8m. Mr Codd farms 400-500 acres of his own land but the "tough worker" has been expanding steadily through rentals in recent years. The Irish Independent has learned Mr Codd now farms 1,200 acres, much of it around the Rosslare area.

6. John and Peter Queally, €259,010.91

The Queally brothers launched Dawn Meats in 1980, and the company had turnover in excess of €1.1bn in 2014.

Dawn Meats counts McDonald's as a customer and recently announced its intention to increase supply to the burger chain by 25pc. Having already supplied over one billion burgers to the global fast-food giant, Dawn has firmly established itself as a true giant of the European meat sector.

The family's farm spans 800 acres in the Piltown area of Co Waterford. Like their lifelong competitor, Larry Goodman, the Queallys massive farm subsidy was amassed on the back of feedlots that fattened thousands of cattle annually for their beef factories.

Both brothers are known to be strong supporters of local GAA and also participate in local charity work.

7. Cyril Goode, €253,301.48

From Arklow in Co Wicklow, Mr Goode is a vet and renowned pedigree cattle-breeder and importer who specialises in producing prize Simmental and Charolais cattle.

Mr Goode was Ireland's biggest suckler farmer. At one point, the farm was home to over 700 suckler cows, which were subsidised to the tune of more than €300 per head back in the heyday of headage payments. He is believed to farm between 400-600 acres, although much of the land is rented.

8. Louis A McAuley, €241,147.75

Large supplier of animal feeds to dairy, beef and sheep farmers, Louis McAuley Ltd is a family run business which was set up in 1976. There are three generations of the family involved in the enterprise.

They grow wheat, barley, oats, rapeseed, maize and bean. The farm encompasses more than 2,000 acres, 90pc of which is in tillage, with the remainder in grassland.

9. VG Land holdings - Val Whooley, €238,214.33

The Whooley operation is registered as receiving €238,214.33 in European funds for a farm in Co Galway. This is despite the fact that Val Whooley operates a dairy farm in the Bantry area of Co Cork.

He also owns a plant hire business with his wife Geraldine. The allocation of the European funds was granted to VG Land Holdings. Documents seen by this newspaper show the company had €402,720 in current assets in its last filings for the year 2015.

10. Terence Coughlan (Fermoy), €232,633.92

Mr Coughlan has been one of the top recipients of the single farm payment over the past decade and was awarded €232,633.92 in 2015.

From Rathcormac in Co Cork, Mr Coughlan is primarily a tillage farmer with an estimated 2,000 acres, the vast majority of which is leased to grow wheat and barley.

Mr Coughlan is a listed director of Cluanaig Limited, which had total assets of €623,924 in 2015.

11. Joseph Slattery, €232,205.68

Joseph Slattery Agri Limited had €447,496 in assets in the company's latest filings. The Slatterys are tillage farmers with their operation expanding out across North Tipperary as other tillage farmers struggled to stay afloat. The Irish Independent understands the Slatterys hold between 1,500 and 2,000 acres in the region.

12. Declan Maher (Birr), €227,706.70

Mr Maher “chased the payments” by fattening cattle, farming sheep and renting ground around his native Kinnity in Offaly to bring his total area to close to 1,300ac. He has since planted close to 400ac into forestry, and reduced his overall farm payments by leasing out a significant amount.

A company of which Mr Maher was a director was dissolved earlier this year having been inactive since 2012.

13. Keating Family, €220,378

When Dublin butcher Noel Keating left his shop in the Liberties to go into meat processing, he would build up one of the country's biggest private enterprises.

It is now owned by his children, Liam (46), Catriona (41), Stephen (39) and Niamh (40). Meath-based Kepak is now one of the State's largest food businesses, employing 2,500 people and generating annual revenues of €850m.

With an estimated fortune worth €168m, one of the family's key assets is their valuable 790-acre block of land just outside Clonee on the Meath-Dublin border, where a 2,200 head feedlot keeps cattle rolling into their meat plants.

14. James Moloney, €220,230.10

Owner of Avondale Farm in Fermoy, James Moloney's interests stretch into the recycling business with Moloney Environmental and crop growing with Portwest Plant.

Mr Maloney’s farming payments were built up on the back of a large suckler cow herd, a sheep flock, along with an extensive tillage area and a beef finishing unit.

15. Richard Cope, €215,133.48

Mr Cope farms over 1,500 acres, much of which is rented, from north Carlow into south Kildare.

The Cope family are well-known farmers throughout the midlands, with Mr Cope's farm primarily focused on tillage. He now farms with his three sons.

16. Michael Smith, €203,164.60

Owner of Athlumy Farms Ltd, Mr Smith has a large tillage farm in Meath of about 2,500 acres with his sons Andrew and Patrick. The farm supplies potatoes to supermarket giant Dunnes Stores.

17. Frank and Theresa Joyce, €202,496.76

Frank and Theresa Joyce have a listed address at Parkstown house in Meath. The Joyces are tillage farmers from Ballivor in Co Meath, with the farm estimated to be at least 1,200 acres in size. The couple also own and run Joyce Agri Ltd and have an address at Parkstown House. The Joyces previously owned an environmental safety business equipment firm which has now been dissolved.

18. John Carr, €200,830.96

Mr Carr spent his life as one of the most well-known beef finishers on a stretch of the Fanad Peninsula in Co Donegal.

While he made his money in a feedlot that turned over thousands of animals annually, in 2002 he changed his focus to horses, establishing Ballyheerin Stud which breeds horses for eventing, dressage and show jumping. The stud is a family run affair, with John's sons Michael, Danny, Paul and John junior tending to about 200 horses. John passed away in December 2015 with his interest now being managed by his sons.

19. Desmond Conroy (Portarlington), €180,999.19

Mr Conroy is another man that owes his huge EU farm payment to the massive feedlot operation on the midlands farm. He is known to rent a number of farms and sheds which supply some of the country's chief beef factories, including Larry Goodman's ABP.

A local source told the Irish Independent Mr Conroy was responsible for a large amount of employment in the area.

20. Padraig, James and Con Barry

€178,717.96

The Kerry farm is run by Padraig and James along with their uncle Con. They run a successful dairy operation which includes 300 cows. The family are also beef finishers with up to 1,000 cattle.

Irish Independent

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