Mountains of opportunity
Fresh fields loom for upland farmers as a new project gives them a chance to produce and sell organic meats
Opportunity knocks for upland farmers interested in developing their farm enterprise as an organic unit. Organics with Altitude is a new project supported by the organic unit of the Department of Agriculture. It is aimed at upland farmers with a mixture of privately owned and commonage land.
Rural development specialist Dr Oliver Moore and organic upland farmer Joe Condon will provide mentoring and training to the farmers who get involved in the 12-month project.
The venture will be a replica of Joe Condon's Omega Beef Direct farm and food business in the Knockmealdown Mountains in Co Tipperary.
The Condon farm produces organic Galloway beef and is a certified organic unit made up of 20ha of unenclosed upland and 20ha of enclosed upland grazing. They use artisan butcher Michael McGrath in Lismore and sell their meat direct to the customer at a weekly farmers' market in Dungarvan. They also sell directly to restaurants and through their website.
However, Organics with Altitude also presents an opportunity for sheep farmers, as it plans to develop certified organic, extra-mature, blackface mountain lamb.
"We are looking for people with a passion for farming who see themselves as business people rather than just farmers," explains Dr Moore, one of the mentors on the project.
"We have already had a number of discussions with chefs who have tasted the product and are interested in using organic blackface lambs on their menus, but their biggest problem is a steady supply."
In total, the mentors plan to support about 20 farmers who get involved in the project. The participants will work towards gaining organic certification for their farm business.
The project will provide a code of conduct for farmers to follow, which will include production, butchering, preparation, distribution and consumption. Advice and support will also be given on selling directly to the customer.
"Farmers who participate in the project will benefit from fully supported mentoring and training for all stages of the process, from production through to direct marketing to the consumer," Dr Moore adds.
"They won't have any costs in terms of the training, as this will all be provided.
"However, only a limited number of spaces for this venture are available for selected, motivated individuals. These people will spearhead the development of this sustainable upland food business model in their respective regions."
For selected farmers, Organics with Altitude will arrange farm and food business walks on Joe Condon's farm. They will also have access to the packaging unit and farmers' market.
In addition, regional training days will be organised in Kerry, Cork, Mayo, Donegal and other selected areas. There will also be individual farm visits to other organic units across Ireland.
The Irish organic retail market is worth an estimated €120m to the economy. This represents a growth from €104m last year and €66m the previous year.
However, we still import up to 75pc of organic food in some categories, especially fruit and vegetables. Much of this food could be easily produced in Ireland.
Mr Condon believes direct selling is one of the best options in the current economic climate.
"I'm absolutely delighted that we will be going ahead with Organics with Altitude," he says, "and direct selling your own organic meat from the right upland breeds is a definite positive option in the current economic climate.
"This is a low-cost, low-input farming option, which can be a win-win situation for both the farmer and the consumer," Mr Condon adds.
The initiative will also provide support in the areas of research and development, networking between farmers, project development and promotion.
The participants will also have access to Omega Beef Direct's research into Galloway cattle.
In addition, research will be made available to them in areas such as nutrition, particularly into omega levels in grass-fed Galloways, as well as into vitamin levels.
"Farming in the uplands is already restricted.
"As well as this, the recent cutbacks in farming supports have made the situation more difficult again," Dr Moore says.
"Applicants for the Organic Farming Scheme will now be expected to have an output and market focus, to have engaged with the organic sector already, and to have a business plan in place.
"In this context, upland farmers should give Organics with Altitude serious consideration," he said.
Anyone wishing to find out more information can visit the website at www.organicswithaltitude.com.
You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, contact Joe Condon, on 087 2735447, email email@example.com or Oliver Moore at 086 8047854, firstname.lastname@example.org
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