Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

'We effectively became a co-op in the truest meaning of the word'

My week: Bill George

Bill George on the family farm in Ballickmoyler, Co Carlow.
Bill George on the family farm in Ballickmoyler, Co Carlow.
Bill's father-in-law Jimmy Mulhall with organic beef products from the farm. Photo: Roger Jones.

Ken Whelan

When you are putting more money into a field than you are getting out of it the time has come to get organised. That's the verdict from Bill George, who works in a farm partnership with his father-in-law, Jimmy Mulhall on the Carlow/Laois border

Sixteen years ago the sums at the family's 250ac beef and tillage showed that the cost of fertilising the fields had become the difference between making a profit or loss on their enterprise.

The figures suggested that a change of direction was required pronto.

"The father in-law, Jimmy, made the decision to change the enterprise from beef/tillage and go organic just around the time that organic farming was becoming an option," says Bill. "I joined him in partnership a few years later. I do the dairy side and Jimmy does the organic meat side.

"It took an awful lot of research and study to complete the transfer to organic but we have got a good return.

"We had to become experts in soil, reseeding, clovers and proteins and get the silage done properly," he recalls.

"It wasn't easy but we are making a good living today," he adds.

Bill is currently getting 36c/l for his summer milk and 60c/l for his winter milk and produces 450,000 from the herd of 110 British Friesian crosses. The milk is routed through the nearby Village dairy to a network of cheese-makers associated with the Little Milk Company which is based in Dungarvan.

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Not to be outdone, the father-in law adds significant value to his organic Aberdeen herd which are reared in another part of the farm and marketed under the Coolanowle banner.

The Little Milk Company was a "follow the money move" when it was set up in 2013 by 10 individual organic milk producers, based across Limerick, Carlow, Laois Kildare, Cork, Tipperary and Wexford. Bill flies the Laois/ Carlow flag within this group.

The company works to a farm to plate business blueprint and now sells a wide variety of non-industrial cheddars and bries in all the major supermarkets here and in 13 countries abroad from Britain to the Middle East and the USA

"The original 10 members used to meet on an occasional basis to talk about developments in the organic milk area and effectively became a co-op in the truest meaning of the word," says Bill.

"The group originally sent their milk to Glenisk but today the group decides the price for their product and that now seems to set the market price for organic milk. What profits are made are reinvested in the Little Milk company," Bill explains.

It has been a remarkable transformation in fortunes for Bill and other producers over the last 15 years and progress looks set to continue onwards and upwards.

For Bill that means supervising the construction of a new milking parlour at Ballickmoyler this summer, and for the father-in-law Jimmy it means expanding his organic meat operation.

This employs five people on the farm's packing and distribution facility which handles the weekly organic meat kill of two beef carcases, up to seven local lambs, four pigs, bought-in chicken and various sausage and burger creations under the Coolanowle brand. The actual killing is done off farm. It all adds up to a busy farm schedule and is a considerable distance away from the days when Bill and the father-in-law used to get stressed out by the latest rise in fertiliser prices.

Bill (41) is married to Marianne, a tillage adviser with Teagasc in Kilkenny, and the couple have three children Conor (9), Alan (7) and Clodagh (5) who keep Bill occupied when he's not working on the farm or business.

"They are interested in rugby and the GAA so we go to matches in Laois and Carlow at the weekends", although big days out for either of the teams are scarce enough.

Indo Farming