'I'm replacing the Sitka Spruce that fall with apple trees'

MY WEEK Mark Wilson-Pierce

Organic farmer Mark Wilson-Pierce with his daughters Phoebe(11) and Síofra(13) at their home farm Rathlir Farm, near Kilrush, Co. Clare with one of their free range chickens and eggs.
Organic farmer Mark Wilson-Pierce with his daughters Phoebe(11) and Síofra(13) at their home farm Rathlir Farm, near Kilrush, Co. Clare with one of their free range chickens and eggs.

Ken Whelan

It's a long way from Somerset to Clare and from sales and advertising to organic poultry farming, but the journey has been a fulfilling experience for Mark Wilson-Pierce.

The 61-year-old sold up his advertising business after he met his late wife Margot Wilson, who worked as a make-up artist with RTÉ on programmes such as 'Ballykissangel' in the 1990s and films including 'Braveheart'.

They met on the Greek island of Skyros - and Mark proposed within five days.

A few years later, in 2003 the couple were back in Ireland and soon buying the 33-acre Rathlir farm near Kilrush and raising their two daughters Síofra (now 13) and Phoebe (11) on what was a suckler enterprise with some 15 acres of forestry.

The first thing Mark decided to do was to "green up" and go into organic farming on the meadow side of the farm.

He reared turkeys from August to Christmas each year for local markets, then ducks and more recently chickens, but the mainstay of the enterprise was the organic eggs, which are now sold under the Rathlir brand through Supervalu and other retail outlets throughout Clare, Limerick and Kerry.

The late calling to farming for a couple with no background whatsoever in the sector didn't faze them.

That's not to say Mark's time running the enterprise has not been without its bureaucratic headaches.

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For instance Mark says: "I have never had a Single Farm Payment. I either missed the closing dates or other requirements when the various CAPS were signed off by the EU."

He was even tripped up by the form-filling bureaucracy demanded by Agricultural House when it came to his REPS application as an organic farmer, only to be saved by Trevor Sergeant - the Minister for Agriculture at the time, who spotted a little-known derogation within the CAP scheme which qualified the enterprise for assistance.

Grants aside, Mark kept calm and persevered, to the point where he was shortlisted for the main prize at the 2016 Bord Bia awards for their organic eggs - "the judges said ours were the best tasting" he says proudly.

Coming to Ireland was always a personal and family decision which Mark has never regretted and his "greening plan" continues onwards and upwards.

His hens are producing 600 boxes of organic eggs per week, and his intention is to increase his laying flock over the next few years while also developing his organic chicken idea .

Poly-tunnels are also in the pipeline this year and Mark has already purchased his strawberry plants alongside other berries and herbs which will give him year-round harvests

Changes are also afoot in the 15 acres of forestry, with the Sitka Spruce being gradually replaced by apple trees.

"I have nothing against Sitka Spruce but the area around these trees is pure desert," Mark says.

"I am replacing the ones that fall with apple trees, which is allowed, and eventually there will be orchards on the land."

Off-farm Mark spends his spare time writing and pens poetry and short stories with rural themes. He is currently penning a " fantasy novel".

Don't bet against him getting a publisher.

In conversation with Ken Whelan

Indo Farming