Innovations mark Kildare farm out as one of Ireland's most progressive organic holdings
When Deirdre O'Sullivan and Norman Kenny purchased Nurney House with its accompanying 14 acres near Carbury, Co Kildare back in 1990 they had a clear plan to grow organic fruit and vegetables.
There were very few organic growers in Ireland at that time and they were determined to establish a sustainable business supplying quality organic food direct to the customer.
Fast-forward almost 30 years and Nurney Farm remains one of the most innovative and progressive organic farms in the country.
They have worked tirelessly over the years to build up a successful dynamic business and in the process have gathered a loyal customer base. In 2001 they bought an adjoining 26 acres, increasing their growing area substantially. The farm is certified by the Irish Organic Association.
Last week, Nurney Farm hosted a Teagasc Organic Farm Walk in conjunction with DAFM, where they explained that over 50 crops are currently grown on the farm in order to supply a diverse range to their markets. Some crops such as potatoes and carrots are grown at field-scale with others like cucumbers grown in the protected structures of the glasshouse and polytunnels on the farm. With a background as an agricultural contractor, Norman has mechanised most aspects of sowing, seeding, weeding and harvesting which has reduced labour costs and improved quality.
Marketing has been central to the development of the business and as they primarily sell direct to the consumer, direct feedback from customers has influenced crop choice and varieties over the years. Nurney Farm open their farm shop on Fridays and they also sell at the Trim Farmers Market.
In 2014, keen to expand their base in Dublin and to bring a range of organic products to the market, they opened the Green Door Market with Coolanowle Organic Farm and Christy Stapleton.
This operates six days a week in Bluebell, Dublin and Nurney Farm have a stall there four days a week.
"Our customers were more than happy to buy other organic products such as meat and dairy, so it made sense to work with other producers to expand the product range so people now use the Green Door as a 'one-stop shop' to buy all of their organic food," says Deirdre. "They love the idea of meeting the producer and are keen to buy sustainably produced food while supporting small family farmers."
Nurney Farm is one of the 11 farms participating in the EIP MOPS project (see panel) which is being lead by the Irish Organic Association. "It has been very interesting to be part of MOPS. Firstly we have gotten to know the other growers better, which is great as it gives you new ideas and techniques," says Deirdre.
"As growers you are so busy and you get wrapped up in what is going on at your farm, so getting out to network with other growers is fantastic. Secondly, part of the project has been focused on assessing demand for organic products in the industry and this has been very encouraging. It has highlighted that there is a lot of demand for Irish organic vegetables in all aspects of retail.
"This is great for us as established growers but also for new growers coming to the market looking to get a foothold. As a grower, it is natural to protect your patch and business - but there is room for everyone to get involved."
In 2017, Nurney Farm took another innovative step and started working with the Land Mobility, run by Macra na Feirme and their partners. "Well, myself and Norman are effectively the 'grey brigade' and we were keen to get the next generation growing on Nurney Farm. So, working with the Land Mobility, we took on Colm Warren as our Farm Manager and hopefully, all going well, he will take on the farm as a long-term rental in the coming years as we step back," Deirdre says.
This evolution in the business has worked well in tandem with the MOPS EIP project, as a core part of MOPS is evaluating your cropping plan, yields and returns on specific crops and maximising production. It is always good to get the opportunity to stand back and examine what you are doing in business and see where changes need to be implemented.
"The variety of data such as soil and leaf analysis, and climate monitoring gathered as part of MOPS has assisted us greatly in streamlining our production at farm level," concludes Deirdre.
Scheme to increase organics production
The Irish Organic Association is using the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) initiative to generate more awareness about growing organic fruit and vegetables. It is the lead partner on Maximising Organic Production Systems (MOPS), an EIP project.
The EIP is a co-funded scheme between the EU Commission and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
To date, the DAFM have held two open calls to address challenges in the agri-food sector and 23 EIP-AGRI projects have been selected.
Projects must align with Ireland’s RDP and national priorities, and they are overseen by DAFM.
Each project must have a bottom-up approach, be led by farmers and help to build bridges between research and practice.
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