Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 18 February 2018

Mulhall family make the most of their home-grown produce

Bill George, Bernadette Mulhall, Eddie Mulhall and Jimmy Mulhall
Bill George, Bernadette Mulhall, Eddie Mulhall and Jimmy Mulhall
Grace Maher

Grace Maher

Jimmy and Bernadine Mulhall converted to organic farming in 2001. Jimmy says his primary reason for going organic was the rising costs of inputs in conventional production and the variability of the returns.

With the farm having a diverse range of production, including tillage, beef, sheep and dairy, and margins tightening in conventional farming systems, the Mulhalls decided to switch to organics.

"Basically, I could see no future in it (conventional production) for me. I had become disillusioned with it, so I was looking for an alternative," Jimmy Mulhall said.

Back in 2003, the Mulhalls were selling their milk to Glenisk, but for the other aspects of the business they were interested in exploring the market for direct sales.

"We had visited markets in England and the continent and saw how well they worked regarding competitive prices and how fresh organic produce could be marketed directly to the consumer," said Jimmy.

In 2004, they started in the Carlow Farmers' Market. They purchased a small unit to sell their meat in, animals were killed and packed locally.

Now, their Coolanowle range of brands is available at weekly markets in Carlow, Kilkenny and four in Dublin.

As the direct sales part of the business started to expand, like many producers Jimmy was faced with the dilemma of managing production on the farm and also being present at the markets to sell his produce.

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So, in 2006, he started to draw back a bit from farming and his son-in-law Bill George started working full time on the farm, mainly milking the cows but also doing other work on the holding.

His son Eddie also works full time in the business, while farming 60ac organically himself.

The farm also has a dedicated processing unit, overseen by Jimmy who also employs a full-time butcher.

OUTPUT

The weekly output is 1.5 beef animals (beef bullocks, or two-year-old heifers), five lambs, two pigs -- these are killed locally but processed at Coolanowle. They also sell 80 chickens a week at the markets.

Bernadine Mulhall has operated a B&B on the farm since 1995, expanding this to include self-catering facilities. In 2012 they also converted an old barn into a function room.

"We sell the fact that the food is a major aspect of what we offer to people looking to rent the venue.

"The fact that it is on an organic farm and the food is sourced from the farm is an important factor for people who hire the venue," said Bernadine.

There is a lot of potential to expand this part of the business and the first 12 months have been very successful.

Taking into consideration all the enterprises on the farm, Coolanowle now employs five people full-time, one part-time and a number of casual staff to assist with functions and catering events.

With some funding assistance and direction, it is a dynamic example of innovation within the rural economy and illustrates how agriculture can drive that economy.

Grace Maher is Development Officer with IOFGA.

Irish Independent