'We need detailed analysis of what is going on at farm level'
Padraig Fahy and Una Ni Bhroin started Beechlawn Organic Farm in 2003 on the outskirts of Ballinasloe, Co Galway.
The couple met in the Organic College at Dromcollogher, Co Limerick and decided to move back to Galway and grow organic vegetables on Padraig's family farm.
They started out slowly, developing the business gradually. They now have 62ac of land, some of which is owned and the rest rented.
Almost 30 acres are in crop production, with some land under grass and the remainder in conversion to organic production.
Beechlawn employs 14 people year-round, and up to 20 in the summertime.
They supply retailers, wholesalers, independent stores and businesses in Galway, Clare and Dublin. They also have a web-shop and operate a home delivery service for customers wishing to source fruit and vegetables direct.
Padraig approached Gillian Westbrook from the Irish Organic Association, outlining what he saw as a growing market for organic horticulture crops and issues with supplying that market.
On the back of that initial conversation, an EIP Operational Group was formed with other growers, agronomists and data collectors, to see if these issues could be explored in greater detail under the EIP-Agri programme.
"We are delighted that this project has been successful in receiving funding, it is very exciting for me as a grower to have that level of additional support," says Padraig.
"One of the key aims is to examine the market in detail, but it is just as important to explore other issues such as agronomy, soil analysis, composting, green manures - all of which are really practical and are part of this project.
"We need to analyse what is going on at farm level to improve production, yields and quality. I am really keen to learn how to ensure crops will last for the season; some crops I have on farm for 120 days, some for 220 days so researching how to get the best out of varieties and crops is really important for me as a producer.
"Sometimes you can be working in isolation, and it is great to know that all the members of the Operational Group will be working with a shared purpose and common goal to develop the organic horticulture market here in Ireland over the next three years."
The project will also capture key variables impacting production on farm environmental climatic conditions, such as humidity, rainfall and temperature.
Over the years Padraig has pulled back from growing some crops such as main crop carrots, potatoes and onions, which he now sources from other growers around the country who are growing on more suitable land conditions.
Beechlawn cannot supply all the crops that they require, so working with other growers is important.
Padraig sees this project as a further opportunity to "build strong relationships with other producers and widen the network of growers around the country as we work together, sharing information and knowledge".
He adds: "Communicating on a regular basis will identify gaps of supply and hopefully increase the availability of some crops as we move towards working collectively, almost like one large farm supplying diverse markets while at the same time optimising each farms productivity."
With sales of organic fruit and vegetables constituting 34pc of the total organic market it seems like the perfect time to develop a project on this scale with the ultimate aim of increasing supply into the domestic market.
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