Farm Ireland

Monday 25 March 2019

'I'm not looking back': From construction projects in Australia and the United States to farming in Mayo


Laurie Barrett
Laurie Barrett

Ken Whelan

It's a big jump from working on construction projects in Australia and the United States to farming in Mayo, but Laurie Barrett is not looking back.

He left college in his early 20s with a degree in engineering and spent the next decade in construction, including a spell on the Luas project in Dublin.

But the idea of reviving the 30ac family farm in Belmullet, which had been leased after his father Frank died in 2000, was always in the background.

"The farm was always at the back of my mind no matter where I was or what I was doing," he says.

"I was the only one of the five children interested in farming and when I was studying for a master's degree in environmental engineering in Cork over five years ago now, I made the decision to go back to Belmullet.

"At the time I was studying more about organic farming than environmental engineering," says Laurie.

It was a big move in financial terms for the 35-year-old, but it is paying off as the farm returns are improving every year.

He runs a 30-strong herd of Dexter cattle and a flock of 80 Welsh Lleyn ewes on the farm, which was a small dairy operation in his father's time. He also rears chickens along with turkeys for the Christmas market.

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He has expanded his operation by leasing an additional 40 acres nearby.

And once his product is slaughtered and vacuum-packed locally, he sells it at farmers' markets in Belmullet and Westport and to regular customers under his Western Shore Organic Farm brand.

He is now busy developing a piggery which he hopes will add pork to his list of organic meats available from his stalls.

"Initially it was hard to make the same income as I had with the construction projects, but things are good now and improving year on year - there is little difference income wise.

"People are interested in buying organically produced food these days and it is important from an environmental point of view to encourage this," he adds.

He chose the Dexter cattle and Welsh ewes because they are hardy and can thrive on his fields, which he describes as typical West of Ireland land.

"It's heavy, peaty and black, which is not being helped by the atrocious wet and fairly brutal winter storms we are getting here," he says.

His breeding and selling cycle is straightforward.

The Dexters are prepared for market from June to November, while the ewes are sold from April onwards and the poultry throughout the year.

He is ticking over on the fodder front and says he should have enough until May, by which stage the weather will surely have improved.

He is helped with the poultry by his 82-year-old mother Philomena and with everything else by his partner Ciara (32).

She is from a Tipperary farming background and works with a jewellery firm in the west during the week.

Asked what the Department could do to help the organic sector, he immediately replies: "They could pay the cheque on time!"

But on a more serious note, Laurie believes there's a need for an awareness campaign on the benefits of organic produce.

Away from work, his main interest is GAA and like all his fellow county men, he believes the infamous 'curse' will be lifted from the backs of the county senior football team in 2018.

It's a belief Laurie has had all his life.

In conversation with Ken Whelan

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