Welcome to my blog

I like to know if anyone is looking at my blog so please comment, if you can think of something, to say or e-mail me at madsmckeever@eircom.net

Monday, April 1, 2013

Masters degree in Organic Horticulture in Lissard

I was delighted to be invited to the presentation of  Belling awards to two students at the UCC run Masters degree in Organic Horticulture in Lissard, last week.
Kitty Scully and Michael are two of the fifteen students who have almost finished the taught part of their course, and are now embarking on research projects.

According to its website the course aims to:

 "The aim of this programme is to provide students with both the scientific principles and the practical applications of organic horticulture, the growing of vegetable, fruit, herb and flower crops in a sustainable environmentally protective manner. A strong scientific foundation to organic horticulture is provided to help students apply their practical knowledge; for example, an understanding of plant form and function helps one to identify crops which grow synergistically together in inter-crops, a mainstay of organic horticulture, producing better yields together than separately. Graduates will receive training in practical organic growing, both open ground and in polytunnels, from experts in the subject, from how to select your own crop varieties to how to erect a poly tunnel, for example. Because one of the factors holding back organic production in Ireland is the lack of targeted research appropriate to this country, emphasis will be placed on graduates being able to test new methods, cultivars etc. in a scientifically rigorous way, leading to a body of research knowledge from this programme of value to Irish growers"

West Cork which is renowned for its 'artisan' producers.  The reason this area has so many such producers, seems to be because small farms in West Cork, deemed unviable between the 1960's and 1980's, came on the market and were bought by 'hippies' and 'blow-ins' who, along with Irish farmers, who married 'hippies' and 'blow-ins' have been the drivers of the artisan food movement in the area. The main winner of the Belling artisan food award last year, Veronica Steel of Mileens cheese and her husband Norman started making cheese in 1978, way out on the Beara.  Millens cheese and many of the cheeses that came after it  have had a close association with the UCC's Dairy Science faculty. West Cork cheeses have inspired farm house cheeses all over the country in the last thirty odd years, and it would be great if horticultural projects here could be models for other places.

I do hope the research carried out by the students will be appropriate to local growers, as we are all struggling to make a living. It is sad that probably our youngest organic producer Eric has emigrated to Canada because he can't make a good enough living. Most organic producers I know, are over 50, and most of them have some other form of income, as well as growing. There are lots of young people who would like to make a living from the land. The popularity of horticultural courses in Skibbereen, in Rossa college, and the Sutherland centre, the new horticulture degree course in CIT, which is run in conjuction with Teagasc, at Dararagh in Clonakilty,  and the Permaculture design course in Kinsale clearly demonstrate this.

There are a lot of limiting factors to making a living out of organic production, the lack of research being only one of them.

Two important ones are the quality of land on organic farms and the size of the local market.  Many organic growers have not come from a farming background, and bought land before they knew much about growing. Poor land makes it very hard work to make a living, but it has made some great growers. There isn't a huge market for fresh vegetables in West Cork, as the population is quite small. We tried having a co-op and sending stuff to Cork city, but that ended badly. The small size of the local market and the inaccessibility to a larger one means that organic producers are not highly mechanised. A mechanical potato or carrot harvester, or a cold store for roots, or an onion drying facility is uneconomical for a small grower. Mechanisation and scale limit local growers and keep prices high. It just about works out profitable to dig early potatoes by hand for the summer market, but local organic growers cannot compete on price, with large mechanised growers, for winter potatoes, carrots and onions. That is why they produce things like salads, which have a short shelf life and a high price.

Flower fruit and herb production have only been carried out on a very small scale, in west Cork as the market for these things, in the area, is even smaller than that of vegetables. They are crops with a short shelf life, or crops that to be economical need to be done on a large scale, mechanized, and transported to an area of larger population.

My question is: why do so many people want to learn to grow food, when it is really hard to make a living doing so?


  1. Very interesting points Mads.
    I have come across many people (farmers) over the years who wake up one morning, see the light and loudly shout ....... we are going organic tomorrow!!!
    A number of years later when they are almost bust ...... cry into their beer and ask where it all went wrong.
    Normally land quality is a large factor but also totally over-estimating the potential market is usually an even bigger factor.
    The dream and reality are invariably miles apart.
    As a lifestyle choice it is great but as a way of making a living on your own it is very very difficult. Eric being a prime example!!!
    Ultimately at the end of the day IF a living is to be made from all the training then having a market for the produce is a must as you state Mads.
    Marketing is a VERY important part of any business.
    All the training in the world will not be worth anything unless you can sell it and hopefully make a living!!!
    Saying that go for it but ...............

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. It would be nice to know who you are, I presume I know you. I think the MSc course has business modules which is good. We could all do with a bit of business training, I did the NUA http://nuatraining.ie 'mind your own business', course when I started BES but I could do with a refresher course.