BY EMMA CONNOLLY
WEST Cork Agri Tours have just hosted a group of Austrians who were hugely impressed with the business initiative that is set to formally launch in October.
What is the first agri tour venture of its kind in the country also hosted a group of Texans earlier this summer – and they liked what they saw so much they are already planning a return visit next year.
The business model is straightforward: working with Failte Ireland and local hotels (Celtic Ross, Fernhill House and Emmet Hotels), the group of five local award winning farmers will host tailormade tours of their farms for both other farmers –as well as those who know little or nothing about agriculture.
The farmers involved are Avril Allshire of Caherbeg Free Range Pork, beef farmer Tommy Moyles from Ardfield, dairy farmer Michael Crowley, Bauravilla, dairy farmer, John Joe O’Sullivan from Garrane, Rosscarbery and dairy farmer Denis O’Donovan, Rosscarbery. Their common link is that they all operate family-run farms, are leaders in their field and are passionate about what they do.
Michael and his wife, Marguerite, hosted the group of 20 Austrians last week and said the feed-back was entirely positive. The visit was organised by Secad in Midleton and the group members work in the agri-toursim sector in the Tyrol region.
The stakeholders met them in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, where they each made a presentation about their individual farming set-up before busing them to Michael’s farm, a third generation family-run operation.
Michael started out some 24 years ago with 30 cows, milking 160 today with the help of his wife Marguerite and children, Brendan, 20; Aisling, 18; Michelle, 17 and 14-year-old twins, Gavin and Colm.
The weather on the day was typically Irish – which Michael said was a reminder to have wellingtons and waterproofs on hand for future visitors. But it didn’t stop the guests having the full farm experience – thinking on his feet, Michael used a feeding trailer to bring them to see the cows, which he said was a highlight.
Michael says his passion is grass and milking, which he explained to the tour as they walked through his paddocks. He supplies Drinagh Co-Op – and the Austrians also got to sample some Carbery cheeses on the day as well as Marguerite’s home baking. The language barrier wasn’t as much of an obstacle as Michael imagined it might be.
With that in mind though, Tommy Moyles said, the tour highlighted what they needed funding for – e.g. having literature available in different languages as well as an interactive board, which would be useful tools going forward, as well as perhaps some audio visual aids.
He described both the Austrian and Texan visits as hugely beneficial from a learning point of view ahead of the October launch. However he was critical of the fact that due to changes to the LEADER funding process, at EU level, they now need to apply through Secad.
Previously, he said, it would have been a case of going to the LEADER group in Clonakilty to discuss their business plan and funding application – now it involved going to Secad in Midleton.
‘It could be so much easier. The best development comes from the ground up. Funding for the development should be local – everyone on the ground knows what works best,’ said Tommy.
‘It is frustrating when it was plain to see how well LEADER worked.’
He was adamant though, that West Agri Tours would roll ahead regardless of the outcome of their funding application with an October launch in the diary.
• See www.westcorkagritours.com