Monday 19 March 2018

Problem solver: There is a future for next generation of young farmers

Businessman Feargal Quinn answers your questions

Q: I am a young farmer and I have just taken over a medium size farm that was previously run by my father. Do you see a future in farming for the next generation?

A: I do. While there is lots of change going on in the agriculture sector with the elimination of milk quotas and some really challenging weather conditions, I still believe there are opportunities for innovative farmers to make a real career from the sector.

I think the agri market will break into two distinct areas. One will be based on efficiencies on large scale production serving larger market segments and in particular the export market. Ireland is already carving out a niche for itself in areas like baby formula milk, etc., on the global stage.

For someone like yourself who is at the small to medium end of the market, I see the opportunity to add enormous value to the core products being produced. Glenilen Farm is a good case in point where Alan and Valerie Kingston have successfully created an agri-based business that is producing for the domestic and international market in the added value category. I am also enthused by the creative work people like John Rogers and his son Jack are doing with their Newgrange Gold Rapeseed and Camelina Oils.

If you haven't read the Department of Agriculture's strategic vision, 'Food Harvest 2020', this would be a good place to start. Also a discussion with your local Teagasc office and Bord Bia could also be beneficial to help you highlight opportunity gaps.

Q: What are your views on customers buying local foods in the areas that they live and supporting Irish produced goods?

A: This is a complex area. On one hand, Bord Bia research is suggesting that consumer interest in local foods has risen dramatically over the last number of years and that consumers are trying to include some local foods in their shopping each week. However the reality is that if every consumer in the country made the change, there would be an explosion in the employment levels for producers who produce locally in each of the regions and this hasn't happened yet. It is a bit like a jigsaw. The consumer needs to behave differently, the local retailer needs to be truly committed to supporting local goods and there needs to be an active local marketing campaign to create a continuous demand.

It is very rare that you get all three of these working together and that's probably the biggest obstacle. The majority of consumers today are budget conscious and sometimes this demand for value overrides the demand for local products or even clutters their mind so much, they simply forget to check out the local products when they are shopping. That is certainly a problem.

I know from my experience in Superquinn that embracing local and artisan produce was very good for our business. Consumers really gave us credit for it and we worked hand in hand with the producers to help drive their sales and promote awareness of their products. It was hard work and sometimes we didn't get the commercial benefit compared to the time that we put in, but it certainly helped us to give the strong message to consumers that we supported new and established local businesses.

Connected with this, is a view I have that we can't sit around waiting for the government or someone else to take action. It is up to every town, every producer, every retailer and chef to take control of this issue at regional level and start working together so that all the pieces of the jigsaw come together. The reality is that the key focus on all of this must be on the consumer because without the consumers wanting this to happen, it will always struggle.

Q: I have been looking at importing a commodity product from America which I believe I can eliminate costs from the supply chain on, have you any thoughts?

A: Usually my experience of commodity products has indicated that it is very difficult to improve on sourcing compared to the existing players in the market. By its nature, suppliers working in the commodity area have had to work extremely hard to eliminate/reduce costs involved in producing and transporting the product.

There is always a chance that you have discovered something that others haven't, however I would advise you to proceed with caution. Sometimes to an outsider looking into a category for the first time, you may view it simply as a matter of transporting the product from A to B without realising all of the intricacies that are sometimes unseen.

I would also encourage you to explore other possible barriers like legislation, duties and taxes or possible hidden storage costs once you get the product here to Ireland.

Finally you need to anticipate how the Irish competitors will respond to a new rival in the market place attempting to undercut them.

The most important thing is that you conduct a thorough feasibility study.

Irish Independent

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