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Friday 17 August 2018

Cork cereal grower onto a winner by selling surplus produce to fellow organic farmers

Brian O'Regan and son Patrick on their tillage farm in Dunderrow, Kinsale, Co Cork. Photo: Clare Keogh
Brian O'Regan and son Patrick on their tillage farm in Dunderrow, Kinsale, Co Cork. Photo: Clare Keogh
Grace Maher

Grace Maher

Brian O' Regan farms in Dunderrow just outside of Kinsale. A tillage and poultry farmer, he converted the tillage operation to organic production back in 2008.

Last year, he grew approximately 90 acres of organic cereals, comprising of 48ac of oats, 22ac of beans, and 20ac of rye, a crop not widely grown organically in Ireland.

Brian enjoys the challenge of growing cereals organically and at one stage expanded to 300ac, selling mainly oats to Flahavan's.

"I sold surplus cereals to other organic farmers for livestock feed and I realised that there could actually be a business opportunity in this," says Brian.

"The vast majority of compound organic animal feed being sold in Ireland is being imported from Europe via one main feed mill in the UK, so why not try to provide an Irish grown, Irish produced animal feed to displace the imports?

"Slowly the idea gained momentum - I spoke to Gillian Westbrook in IOFGA, who put me in touch with Peter Morrin, who has a wealth of experience in organic feed production.

"Slowly over the last few years things have evolved to the point where we are now ready to launch Irish Organic Feeds as an independent business."

Having conducted market research on the current requirements for animal feed, Brian estimates it to be in the region of 9,000t (this does not include poultry feed).

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"We know the current requirements and based on that we are also looking at the capacity for growth," he says.

"There is huge scope for the market to increase as there is a general mushrooming of interest in organic products.

"There is potential in malting and the flour industry to name just a few.

"If an Organic Farming Scheme were to open soon it would bring in more producers such as dairy farmers who like the stability of the prices in organic production, and tillage farmers who are screaming for higher incomes to remain in business - organics can offer them that. The sector can easily take in an additional 8,000-10,000 acres to supply current demand and conservative growth projections.

"We are falling behind trends all across Europe which is bad news for Irish farmers."

Although still in the early stages, Irish Organic Feeds is looking at interesting options for farmers by offering a share farm option. This involves growing organic cereals in partnership with farms.

"It is a challenge to convert a tillage farm to organics as it is a totally different way of farming, you have to be organised and plan ahead which can be tricky, especially when dealing with Irish weather," says Brian.

Income security

"So by working with farmers we can help them through that conversion period and give them a guaranteed income so they know that they will have a margin at the end of the season.

"This year we are looking for 1,000t of green grain off the combine, and we will take it from there."

As with starting any new business, an enormous amount of resources has gone into getting Irish Organic Feeds off the ground.

"We have had a huge amount of support to get here, as people really see the opportunity in the sector to substitute imports with a quality Irish product," says Brian. "With changes afoot due to Brexit it is essential that we become more self-sufficient in terms of feed. After all, that is the whole ethos of what organic food production is all about."

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