KEY figures in West Cork’s food industry are working with University College Cork (UCC) to develop Ireland’s first masters in organic horticulture on a renowned estate. The proposed third-level outreach programme at the Liss Ard Estate in Skibbereen, 83 miles from UCC, is expected to be accredited and supported by UCC through its School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES).
Research conducted by its first tranche of students could see Liss Ard become the first organic horticultural crop research centre in Ireland. It is hoped the course will start in September 2012 with an initial intake of 15 students.
It is expected that students will examine the potential for using seaweed extracts to increase crop yield and disease resistance, as well as exploring plant breeding, biological control of crop pests, vermicomposting, the use of constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment and the use of waste like shellfish waste, wood ash and potato peel in horticulture.
The idea stemmed from Lord David Puttnam’s assertion that horticulture was the way forward for the West Cork region. Mr Puttnam, a Chancellor of the Open University, told the Government last year that he believes that distance learning, based on the Open University model, could play a role in the provision of this new course.
With his backing and support, the concept was progressed during the year by Carbery Enterprise Group and Arthur Little, general manager of the Liss Ard Estate.
Among the key figures involved were Professor Peter Jones of the BEES, landowner Joe Collins, who runs an organic farm next to Liss Ard, Carol Gilbert, Walter Ryan-Purcell, Whale Watch West Cork founder Dr Nic Slocum and Giana Ferguson of Gubbeen Cheese and founder of Slow Food Ireland.
UCC authorities have visited Liss Ard in recent weeks to examine its buildings and sites which would be used on the course. A business plan and syllabus are now being prepared in the hope that it will lead to a formal agreement between UCC and Liss Ard Estate.
It culminated in the visit by Junior Agriculture and Food Minister Shane McEntee to the estate recently to examine progress. “This is a positive step towards providing the levels of expertise needed to develop the organic horticulture sector in Ireland to its full potential,” he said. “It will help to improve the knowledge base of the sector and to promote best practice. “I want to commend community leaders in West Cork for the initiative they have shown in promoting this innovative development.”
A UCC spokesperson said the proposed MSc programme at Liss Ard will fit well with on-going UCC initiatives, such as the short-course Artisan Food Summer School run by the Food Industry Training Unit.
The Liss Ard Estate is owned by Swiss national Roman Stern, who bought it in 200 with his wife, Chitra.