'Crops would have burned in the fields if we hadn’t installed an irrigation system’

Grace Maher

Grace Maher

As with most farmers, 2018 has proven a challenging year for organic vegetable grower Vincent Grace.

Difficult weather conditions this year forced Vincent to alter his original cropping plan for Riversfield Farm, located just outside Callan, Co Kilkenny.

Some succession sowings of crops such as beetroot did not occur as the ground was too dry for seeds to germinate. This has led to some yield deficits.

“Conditions became so dry that I installed an irrigation system for field production and it was vital to the survival of crops such as leeks, otherwise they would simply have burned up in the field,” says Vincent.

“Yields have been affected particularly in crops such as potatoes — we grow early and main-crop potatoes. Yields are back almost 50pc as the plants simply did not bulk up in terms of foliage or tuber formation.

“The only advantage of the dry weather was that weed pressure remained low.

“Every year you learn more about vegetable growing but this year was enough to test any grower’s tolerance.”

Vincent started Riversfield Farm in 2013, keen to grow organic vegetables for the local market. He studied horticulture via distance learning at the Organic College in Co Limerick, before becoming certified organic by the Irish Organic Association.

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The farm is 11 acres with approximately four rotational acres in vegetable production; the rest of the land is planted with fertility-building green manure crops.

Riversfield is one of the 11 farms participating in the Maximising Organic Production Systems (MOPS) project, and Vincent recently held a Field Talk event which attracted commercial growers and students.

“We supply almost 20 restaurants in the local area and some local organic growers and we are starting to supply local SuperValu stores with our salad crops,” he says.

“While the MOPS project only started in June this year, already it has started to shape what we are doing here.

“Through the process of recording what is happening on the farm it has already made me think about the crops I grow here, how they are performing, from an agronomy point of view but also in the marketplace, which is very important in terms of future planning for my business.”

All of the crops are sown at the farm, with the exception of leek transplants, which are brought in from Holland as there are no organic varieties being grown to transplant stage in Ireland.

At the Field Talk event, the crops looked in good condition, with very little nutrient deficiency or pest problems evident.

Despite recent rainfall the soil was dry underneath the plants, which may affect production of some crops, such as winter brassicas.

“Our salad production did very well in the hot weather as it was in high demand,” says Vincent.

“I completed the Food Academy programme, which was good training for essential aspects like improving marketing skills.

“By being involved in the MOPS project I hope to benefit from working with 10 other growers to see how we can work collaboratively to increase our combined  output as the demand continues to grow for organic fruit and vegetables.

“As a small farm it can be challenging to succeed at marrying supply with diverse market demands.

“By working closer with other growers hopefully we can fine-tune our collective supply to be more efficient at farm level, which in turn will make my business more sustainable.”

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