Friday 18 October 2019

'Working on the farm is a vocation, I love what I do'

This working life: Ross Keogh - Production & sales manager, Keogh's Crisps

Ross Keogh
Ross Keogh

Mary McCarthy

Top advice

I would advise those wanting to go into a family farm to do a proper business degree, cut their teeth working elsewhere and bring this experience back. I studied at night instead and regret not taking that time out

Agri-diversification is the future of keeping Irish farms viable, and different skill-sets are needed.

Farm or flight?

Working on the farm is a vocation. We were told to go off and do what we wanted, but it's an assumed default position that you have to get out of, rather than just not opting in.

Family working

There can be arguments, as working with your family can get emotional. We take a breather, regroup and work it out. We have our own areas so as not to be in each other's pockets.

Corporate values?

We wanted to improve our marketing, so a branding agency shadowed us for a few days.

It told us there was no need for a fancy strategy as our family and the love we had for farming were the brand. They put a picture of us sitting on a fence on all the products. That's where our motto 'Grown With Love in Ireland' came from.

The big idea

Since the 2000s, potato consumption is down in Ireland by 50pc; families no longer buy the sacks. The popularity of the Atkins diet played a part and a move to more exotic dinners. We looked at exporting, but my dad always says potatoes have a maximum export distance of 500 miles due to weight. Crisps are light, easy to export and marketable.

Little luxuries

We launched our crisps in the recession which was great timing; people could not afford to go out and instead treated themselves to a bottle of wine and luxury crisps at the weekend.

The crisps are going down a storm in the US, and the United Arab Emirates is our best export market. We are on all first-class Emirates flights now and export to Singapore, China, Germany and France. A lot of our unique selling point is that we are Irish.

The next big thing

I'm planning on introducing an optical grader to sort through the potatoes so the army of women that currently inspect them just have to go through the last 20pc.

This is not widespread in Ireland yet; one or two places are doing it. It takes out the heavy work and ensures better quality.

My dad and uncle Tony are not happy over the capital outlay of introducing this technology, but I know it will pay for itself in a few years. They have a mindset of keep on doing things the same way.

Succession planning in a family business is a process that has to be taken slowly.

My father and my uncle Tony are planning their retirement, and myself, my brother Tom and cousin Derek are managing a lot of the business already but chomping at the bit to put our own imprint on it. But it must be hard to hand over their life's work. I want to make sure we do the family business and name justice.

Hi-tech farming

Like trucking in the US, there is a huge shortage of staff in farming in Ireland and a different mentality now towards manual labour.

My brother Kevin works as an engineer for a self-driving truck company in San Francisco and he is aiming to make truckers' jobs easier as they will only have to supervise the first and last bit of a journey sitting in an office.

I tell my dad and uncle thats the same idea of what automation will do for farming jobs in Ireland - not replace them, but make them nicer.

Drone warfare

We have tractors guided by satellite navigation. The fields are mapped and then the tractor can utilise this to be accurately directed to trough the field, utilising the land as efficiently as possible.

We also use drone technology to view our crops more accurately, so we can be quicker to detect any growing issues.

Work-life balance

By working on a farm and having a young family, you burn the candle at both ends. My wife Lorraine works full-time, so every minute counts.

I get up at 4.50am and go to the gym before heading to the farm. I'll go home to help get Isabelle and Ava up and out to creche, then back to work until around 8pm. I kiss them goodnight. I'm studying for an MBA with DCU, so after dinner hit the books.

I figured out years ago that going to the gym is essential to maintaining my mental health. It can become second nature to be on the farm a lot, as you are so involved with what you do, and I need to ensure I get out for dinner more with Lorraine.

Lure of the land

I love what I do.

I did want to be an architect but even if I had studied, the farm would have won out.

The lure of the land proved too much for myself, my brother Thomas and my cousin Derek.

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