Killowen Farm: Dairy farmer on the 'art of the possible' and other ways to get a return on his investment, time and effort
Farms are valuable assets and, as with any business, maximising the value from that asset makes good commercial sense.
Dairy farmers, in particular, make their money from the milk produced. But the holy grail for some farmers is to make the transition from traditional farming to further up the value chain. If they can produce saleable products that utilise the asset and the manpower of the people, that has to be a good thing.
Of course, that's easier said than done. However, there are countless success stories of iconic Irish agri-businesses that are now significant brands on the world stage. Kerry Group, Glanbia, Dawn Foods and Queally meats all started on an Irish farm.
From Caterpillar to Butterfly
Wexford man Nicholas Dunne considers himself to be very fortunate. This humility is genuine. But in my view, it masks the real drive, passion and entrepreneurship that has turned his family farm into a powerhouse for making yogurt. After spending a year in Australia, Nicholas returned in 1991 to take over the family farm of 80 Friesian cows from his dad, Tom Dunne. Within five years, he built the stock to 200 cows. He immersed himself in learning by being on the board of Wexford Creamery, doing a one-year part-time diploma in corporate direction in UCC and visiting Kerry Foods' plants in the US.
This opened his eyes and made him realise the 'art of the possible' and that there were other ways to get a return on his investment, time and effort. Nicholas the entrepreneur started to explore other options.
The Killowen Purchase Milestone
When your lifetime is spent around dairy cows, the business ideas obviously centre on milk. Nicholas investigated and just as quickly turned away from cheese, frozen yogurt, ice-cream and more.
In 2003, his sister Pauline (who now works with him in a sales and marketing role) told him about a local yogurt-maker called Killowen that was closing down. That evening Nicholas made contact with the owners and within days he was in the yogurt business. It seemed that all the time spent exploring his options was paying off.
Paul and Laura Kinsella, the previous owners, were passionate about quality and Killowen had been a premium product since the 1980s. After renting their premises for a year, Nicholas moved the plant to its current site, the Dunne family farm. This was essential for control and to reduce the transporting of milk. It also removed the split focus on two locations. The next couple of years were a huge learning curve for production, quality control, dealing with state agencies and banks, sales, marketing and so on.