By Rebecca McEvoy and Kathlee Freeman
Early in the afternoon on June 24th we made our first field visit of ICRPS 2015 to the Boortmalt plant in Athy, County Kildare.
Boortmalt is the malting barley division of the Axereal group, Europe’s largest grain cooperative. This plant is the largest producer of malting barley in Ireland and the sole malt supplier for domestic production of Guinness.
At the plant, we learned how the change from private to co-operative ownership positively impacted the business. Cooperative ownership has resulted in more physical investments at the plant and long term, sustainable planning. Research is being done with extension workers to improve efficiency at the plant itself and design agronomy programs for suppliers to reduce their chemical inputs.
Boortmalt was also the first agri-business to sign onto Ireland’s Origin Green Initiative. Origin Green is the Bord Bia programme and sustainability charter for the Agri-Food industry. We were told emphatically that Origin Green, for Boortmalt, is not just a sustainability charter but a way of doing business and ensuring the highest quality of barley can be shipped to distilleries and breweries on the island for generations to come.
The group then proceeded to the scenic Ballindrum Farm, a dairy farm and a bed and breakfast. Owners Vincent Gorman and his wife, Mary, had an afternoon snack of tea, coffee, scones, and fresh jam waiting. After eating, Vincent invited the group outside to learn about the Gorman’s, and the community’s, agricultural history. Framed by the pasture and indolently grazing cows, Vincent told us about his purchase of the current farm in 1990, the inclusion of agritourism on it in 1991, and his role in the local farming community. He also spoke at length about the farm’s expansion project, which included growing the current herd and building a more efficient milking facility. In addition to highlighting his own farm’s recent work, Vincent lent his agrarian perspective to several Irish political and social issues. He spoke at length about the infamous Celtic Tiger, the period of swift economic growth that characterized the Irish economy from the mid-1990s until the recession of 2008.He credits this time period with the decline in interest of farming among young people as they turned to construction to earn higher wages.
We were then led towards the rear of the Ballindrum property, where we toured the partially built milking facility that would boast a larger space for milking the expanding herd. The inclusion of technology on the farm also provided plenty of fodder for discussion as well as a window into the practical aspects of farming in rural Ireland.