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Friday 22 June 2018

What's more profitable milk or honey? It's a toss up for these farmers

Cork farmers milking 200 cows and have 300 bee hives

Kevin Collins and his father Jerry the family farm in Timoleague, Co Cork PHOTO: Emma Jervis Photography
Kevin Collins and his father Jerry the family farm in Timoleague, Co Cork PHOTO: Emma Jervis Photography

Ken Whelan

It's all about milk and honey at Kevin Collins's dual enterprise farm in West Cork where it's a toss up every year as to whether the cows or the bees will bring in the most profit.

"I'd say it's about 50-50. The milk price can go up and down while the honey is sold at the same price, so it probably favours the cows with prices the way they are at the moment," says Kevin.

He farms 230 acres in Timoleague where he runs a pedigree-registered herd of up to 200 Holsteins, some British Friesians along "with a bit of Jersey thrown in."

He supplies milk to Barryroe who are currently paying "43c/l with high fat."

"The price this year is okay especially when compared to the previous two years. We are making a margin. We are not living on the minimum wage. But you need over 30c/l to make a decent wage and milk prices have a habit of diving when they hit the 40c/l mark," Kevin enumerates.

When not milking the herd Kevin switches his attention to the honey business. This involves 300 bee hives which are located at Timoleague and across host farms from Kinsale to Macroom.

Kevin Collins's Father Jerry farmer based in Timoleague, Milk and Honey Molaga Honey Pic. Emma Jervis Photography
Kevin Collins's Father Jerry farmer based in Timoleague, Milk and Honey Molaga Honey Pic. Emma Jervis Photography

Kevin produces his own Black and Green labelled honeys under the Molaga brand. The brand's name derives from St Molaga who ministered in the Timoleague area in ancient times and was a friend of St David, the patron saint of Wales and, some would say, the patron saint of bees.

He has distribution agreements with Tesco and Musgraves for the Molaga brand and also organises distribution to MACE and other outlets himself.

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The Black label brand is produced from the 300 "home hives" and some locally bought-in honey. About two tonnes of honey are used for the Black label while an extra seven tonnes is imported from Portugal for the Green label brand.

Three generations of the Collins family have kept bees. Kevin learned the art from his father, Gerry who still manages the apiary on the Timoleague farm to this day.

Both enterprises create spin-off work locally with the dairy employing a full-time man and the hives creating work for a few local lads and a part-time office administrator.

Kevin, who has an infectious enthusiasm about bees, is always puzzled why honey curds are not very popular with consumers. "The older people tend to buy them but there seems to be no interest among the younger people for them. The curds always have the best honey in them," he says.

Kevin Collins farmer based in Timoleague, Milk and Honey Molaga Honey.
Pic. Emma Jervis Photography
Kevin Collins farmer based in Timoleague, Milk and Honey Molaga Honey. Pic. Emma Jervis Photography

Kevin says it is important where the hives are sited. He had a hive near an ESB power line once and he immediately noticed that the bees began to die off quickly, but when he relocated them away from the power mast, they thrived once again.

"All the honey, whether Irish or Portuguese, is fully traceable down to the last barrel," he stresses.

Kevin, who has been farming with his father since he completed his agricultural studies at Clonakilty in the mid 80s, is married to Kay and the couple have four children - Caoimhe (15), Mira (13), Riona (11) and Darragh (9).

Off farm, his interests centres on the local GAA club and with helping to organise the annual Timoleague Harvest Festival.

He has been working with the festival committee for over 10 years now.

It attracts top like Nathan Carter, Mundy and Aslan, it puts another buzz into the rural life around the old parish of St Molaga in West Cork.

In conversation with Ken Whelan


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