Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Collaboration key to success for pair who pooled resources

Rather than risk losing business to other producers, two farmers joined forces to help boost income and margins, writes Teagasc's Paul McCarthy

Brendan and Ronan work together to boost profits while keeping brands separate
Brendan and Ronan work together to boost profits while keeping brands separate

Paul McCarthy

Would it surprise you to know that the biggest rival supermarket chains in Britain share the same delivery trucks to maximise efficiency? Looking at big businesses is one thing, but I became very interested when I heard of two farmers who both sell their produce in the west and have recently joined forces to help their individual businesses.

Often, when I am asked by rural businesses about what they can do to grow their enterprises, increase profits and cut costs, I will throw out the idea of looking around to see what businesses they can build working partnerships with. The first reaction is often one of reluctance or fear. Perhaps the other business will steal not only our ideas and our products but our customers as well -- and besides it's just not practical.

The other big issue is that small businesses cannot make time, they are stuck in a rut because they are so busy with the day-to-day routine.

According to Ross Curley, who has completed a related study with UCC and South and East Cork Area Development (SECAD) on small food enterprise collaboration, the benefits of working together can be very significant and include reduced distribution costs, time for business and product development, access to new markets and the exchange of knowledge.

Ronan Byrne certainly is the friendly farmer. He farms 35ac in Knockbrack just outside Athenry, Co Galway, with a diverse mix of enterprises, and sells all his produce directly through various farmers' markets in the region.

Brendan Allen and his brother, Derek, farm 250ac in Co Roscommon. Last year they opened a farm shop and a small processing unit on the farm to add value to their produce. They also sell produce through farmers' markets, their online shop and a nationwide box scheme.

Brendan's first introduction to Ronan was via email -- both had their own websites and were broadly aware of one another's produce.


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They arranged to meet and Ronan instantly realised that this was someone he could work with. They began sharing information from feed for turkeys to sourcing packaging and information on various markets.

After realising that they both shared the same values and had strengths that would complement one another's businesses, the pair decided to pool their resources and formally work together on certain projects, while maintaining their own distinctive brands.

They had both aspired to have a stall in the Galway city market, but couldn't do it on their own. By joining forces, and their combined product range, they have established a viable outlet at one of the busiest markets in the country.

They are now making their two customer bases into one and targeting it more effectively.

They are also extending Brendan's 'Castlemine Box' scheme to include the Friendly Farmer customers and his produce offering. Ronan believes other small-scale producers should take a similar approach.

"There is no need to fear that someone will copy you, all it means is that the customer will have more choice and the small producers' hand will be strengthened overall."

Ronan also says that when talking with other small producers, ask questions and offer solutions as well.

Information exchange is one of the biggest benefits, from the sourcing of inputs to customer trends.

A good first step towards collaboration is to identify existing producers that will complement one's business.

"My biggest regret was not doing this a year ago and we could have progressed much quicker, " Ronan said.

Irish Independent