There is greater awareness of food provenance right across Ireland, much of which is being fuelled by younger consumers interested in where and how the food and drink they consume is produced. While taste is subjective, it is attracting more attention as a distinct selling point.
A good example of an industry that markets itself on taste is craft beer. According to a recent report by Bord Bia, there are approximately 125 brewing companies in the Republic of Ireland, 75 of which are independent production micro-breweries. Collectively they produced 157,000hl (hectolitres) of craft beer in 2017, an increase of 10.7pc on the previous year.
This equates to 2.6pc of domestic beer consumption in Ireland. Most craft beers market themselves based on unique flavour and Irish consumers have been very receptive.
Farmers are increasingly viewing themselves as food producers, and rightly seeing themselves in a unique position to supply raw materials to a more diverse market. Very few Irish farmers are growing crops, be it hops or barley for thriving micro-breweries.
This may be the fault of the brewer as much as the farmer, and until consumers ask for Irish grown products in craft beers, this is unlikely to change. While innovation at farm level requires capital investment, it also offers additional revenue streams.
As the organic market becomes more mainstream, it can still be challenging for speciality producers to find routes to market - but there are growing opportunities in many sectors. Ireland is a net importer of both organic and conventional grains.
Organic farmers in cereal production primarily grow oats, and barley to a lesser extent. Very few organic farmers grow wheat as it tends to be a very hungry crop that can exhaust soil fertility. In addition, demand for organic wheat for human consumption remains relatively low.
James Kelly from Ballymore Organics in Ballymore Eustace, Co Kildare has been growing organic cereals for a few years now.
Last year James built a flour milling plant on his farm. The grain is stone-ground which is a slow process of grinding large stones together with the wheat in the middle.
In stone-ground flour the endosperm, bran, and germ remain in their natural, original proportions and is more nutritious. In October of this year his stone-ground wholemeal flour was shortlisted for an award at the National Organic Food Awards.
Growing cereals organically is a technical business and management is key. "This farm grew wheat traditionally but growing good milling wheat organically leaves no room for error, and it must suit your soils which should be balanced and biologically active," says James.
"Although wheat works well as the first crop in the rotation, growing winter wheat can shorten your rotation in an organic system by one growing season as it is such a nutrient-demanding crop, so if you are going to grow it you need to get a premium price for it.
"For me that is achieved by adding value to it through on-farm processing. At the moment I am selling 20kg sacks of flour direct to restaurants and cafés."
There is a thriving café and bakery culture in Ireland, and flour grown at Ballymore farm is generally used for soda breads but also sourdough breads.
This year James experimented with a heritage landrace wheat, sown at 190kg/ha, in ideal conditions straight out of ley. "It established really well, and the vigour was superb, but that doesn't necessarily translate into yield or quality," he says.
"The biomass was enormous, plants grew 5ft tall whereas my modern wheat variety was knee-high, due to exceptional weather through the growing season. Obviously, lodging is a concern with crops this tall and this year the standing ability was not tested as it was such a dry year, we had no rain here for three months," said James.
"In terms of yield, organic cereals are lower and if you grow heritage varieties organically you are looking at reducing your yield further, so while the idea of heritage grains sounds good, for me it does not stack up economically.
"The disease resistance is low so that is also a risk in an organic system as you cannot use fungicides to deal with problems that arise. I still have an open mind on heritage varieties and experimentation is good, but at the end of the day margins have to add up."
As James is farming and running the flour business on his own, there are a lot of things to keep on top of. "You have to get everything right; there are no shortcuts when selling to consumers," he says.
"The wheat I grow averages from 9-14pc protein and people using the flour do not use additives to enhance their bread so the taste is not compromised. For me organic farming is the perfect option, it is great for the farmer and the environment, I really believe in it, and there is a lot of truth in the saying you are what you eat!"
Another new business that is passionate about organic farming is Bread Nation, who opened their café on Pearse Street in Dublin just 11 weeks ago. The bakery is also on the premises and is certified organic with the Irish Organic Association.
Bread is baked daily for wholesale deliveries and café owner and head baker Eoin Cluskey is keen to help people understand more about what is in the food they are eating.
"We need to talk more about food," says Eoin. "As a baker we are accountable for what we sell to people, so for me using organic flour is vitally important. I can stand over it, knowing that it is produced sustainably and pesticides are not applied to grow the grains. Then when it comes to my part in the chain, I don't add processing aids or artificial additives - we simply use flour, water, salt and fermentation. It remains a natural product."
Business has thrived since they opened and the feedback about their bread is hugely positive. "For me this is encouraging as I am keen to feed the masses and there are already plans for expansion," says Eoin.
"One thing that surprises me is the lack of availability of organic raw materials here such as butter, grains and buttermilk. I need volume at the right price as I am selling it on to customers and I would love to source all of this locally, but there is no-one making organic butter or buttermilk in the country, bizarre in a country world famous for its butter!
"I would love to see more farmers in Ireland going organic, and as producers and chefs we need to take on that challenge; we can all do more. I care about the process and what is in our food, that is what drives me and why I use organic ingredients in what we create at Bread Nation, and the market has responded showing that customers care too."
Grace Maher is development officer with the Irish Organic Association, email@example.com