Ireland’s artisan and speciality food sector is experiencing continued growth with increased marketing of these foods in local food markets and through direct sales to restaurants and hotels.
Speaking at the TASTE Council summer school in Macreddin, Co. Wicklow today, Teagasc researcher Dr. Áine Macken-Walsh said; “Studies show that despite the economic returns from adding value to the primary product, many Irish farmers are not processing their farm produce or selling directly. From a total of approximately 128,000 Irish farms, figures show that just 0.4% are engaged in food processing.”
There are several reasons for this low level of engagement in food processing and direct sales. Dr. Macken-Walsh said; “Sociological studies have identified some of the reasons why this may be the case. Many traditional farmers’ knowledge and occupational preferences are centred on agricultural production activities. Farmers have sophisticated knowledge of agricultural production techniques, which must be continuously updated, and also valuable local knowledge of traditional farming methods suited to the local ecology. On the other hand, traditional farmers may not have the cutting-edge corporate skills, or preferences, to effectively process, brand, market, sell and distribute their product. For a large proportion of farmers who are investing full-time in agricultural production, undertaking the necessary corporate activities to brand and bring their product to market may not be possible – even from a work-load and time perspective.”
A model developed in the US, the ‘Middle Agriculture’ model, aims to assist such farmers. Dr. Macken-Walsh said: “The ‘Middle Agriculture’ model may have promise in the Irish case, as it identifies food produced by small and mid-sized family farms as having a number of key advantages in the marketplace. The food represents what a growing number of consumers want – it is non-intensively produced and family produced, animal welfare standards on such farms are high, and the farms promote sustainability and diversity – socially, culturally and environmentally. The vast majority of Irish beef and lamb is free-range and a large proportion of Irish farmers are participants in agri-environmental schemes. However, family farm produce requires the appropriate branding, marketing and other corporate services to enter high value-added markets. The ‘Middle Agriculture’ model proposes that a farmer-owned, farmer-run cooperative be established that facilitates the necessary scale of product and buys in the necessary corporate services (potentially from young graduates) to bring their products successfully to market.”