All agricultural eyes have been on the Ploughing for the last week. But as with a lot of pre-Covid habits, after three years I forgot about blocking off the third week in September for the annual media circus.
Instead, I found myself in Warsaw with a group of Dutch flower and bulb producers, looking to make inroads in the booming Polish market.
It never ceases to amaze me how affluent these former Communist states feel today.
You would have a crick in your neck looking up at the soaring towers of glass that are starting to dominate Polish cities’ skylines.
The bars and cafes are as hip as any other cosmopolitan European capital, and the shops, hotels and cars are equally snazzy.
This is the lure for inveterate traders like the Dutch.
I initially thought that they might be refocusing on the likes of Poland because of the loss of the previously lucrative Russian market.
But my Dutch colleagues assured me that while their fingerprints won’t be found on any of the products, there are still plenty of plants and flowers finding their way around the EU sanctions.
Instead they are ensuring that the local suppliers don’t get too big without the Dutch men having a slice of the action.
Covid drove a real spike in flower sales through the big supermarket chains, which are still finding their feet in Poland.
While Covid has eased, it left a permanent dent in the sales volumes of traditional florist outlets.
But inflation is set to drive another nail into the small independent retailer’s coffin.
While we think it’s bad here at close to 10pc, it’s double that in most Baltic countries, and Poland is close to 17pc.
That will force families to consolidate more of their weekly shop in discount stores. Expect the likes of Aldi and Lidl to clean up over the coming years.
The Dutch are constantly monitoring who’s doing what and where.
They run companies that trade in the millions and can afford to send their scouts all over the world. They have tentacles in the most unlikely places.
The guy I happened to sit beside on Wednesday night explained to me how his company employs up to 250 people in the Sechura desert on Peru’s Pacific coast.
He grows half of all the amaryllis bulbs on the planet, or well over 100 million bulbs.
While the Dutch had first taken the amaryllis bulb from South Africa to cultivate intensively in Holland over 50 years ago, they quickly realised that the real money was in producing southern hemisphere bulbs that would bloom in time for the Christmas market, when they often fetch north of €15 each.
For years they concentrated on a patch of southern Brazil close to Sao Paulo, where the climate was warm enough without being too hot and humid to control diseases that would otherwise ravage the crop.
But as the years rolled on, Brazil showed its weaknesses.
The unpredictable political system began to spook the conservative Dutchmen, and when climate change began to kick in over the last decade with new weather extremes, they began scouring the globe again.
South-west Africa was one possibility, but it was weak on water supplies, while south-east Africa was still too politically unstable.
China had the micro-climate but ‘that’s for the Chinese’.
That’s when Peru started to catch their attention. In recent years the Peruvian government has undertaken massive water schemes to pipe the water through the Andes from the east, where there is an over-abundance of rainfall, to the parched western slopes that flatten out into 30km of sandy nothingness until the dessert hits the sea.
The cold Humboldt current that rumbles up the coast at vast depths from the Antarctic keeps what would otherwise be a scorched piece of the planet at a very comfortable 25°C.
With the availability of plentiful irrigation, the Peruvian desert has suddenly become one of the world’s largest open-air greenhouses.
Low humidity levels minimise disease, and the level sandy soils are easily worked. Avocados, asparagus and a host of other demanding but high-value crops are springing up over thousands of irrigated acres in the region.
My Dutch acquaintance explains how his company had invested millions in the project over the last eight years, with a pay-back only starting to roll now.
You can imagine me sitting there chewing over the schnitzel and the implications of the Dutch growers’ latest adventures.
It was on such a vastly different scale that it was hard not to feel overawed by the ambition of it all. It made Ratheniska seem very far away and my farming ambitions look very amateur.
But as the Dutch have proven, it’s always good to know what the competition is up to... even if it does freak you out a little.
Darragh McCullough runs a mixed farm enterprise in Meath, elmgrovefarm.ie