Farm diversification has long been a hot topic of conversation both for government ministers and for farmers themselves. In this ever-changing world, can farmers continue to concentrate solely on the production of arable crops and the raising of livestock to make a living? Prices are continually being driven down on milk and meat, leaving farmers with little profit at the end of the day.
One man in Ireland believed that diversification away from traditional farming was the direction he should be taking and now runs a multi-million-euro business, all of which started from a 14-acre smallholding handed down through his family.
In the beginning
In the early 1980s, Padraig Giblin was an accomplished hurling player, representing County Clare, in addition to holding down a full-time job with the Irish state-owned Electricity Supply Board (ESB). The early 1980s were good for ESB which employed 14,000 staff; however, as the decade came to an end, it was closing buildings and cutting costs. During this time of uncertainty, Padraig was responsible for the catch nets at the hurling ground which prevented the sliotars used in the game, from landing on the road outside. He found this maintenance work hard and so designed a pulley system for the nets, thereby making the job much easier. This design was the beginning of Sportworld Netting, a company with its base in County Clare. Padraig remains the managing director today.
Padraig left work as the netting business took off, with contracts with the Aviva Stadium and Croke Park to name just a couple. At this time Padraig’s father inherited a 14-acre farm and eight head of cattle. Padraig moved his sports netting business onto the farm and sold the cattle. The business expanded, utilising farm buildings for storage and he employed 15 staff from the local area and was turning over two million euros.
Not content with the farm diversification involving the sports nets business, in true entrepreneurial style, he established a boat and fishing business bringing international visitors to rural Ireland. These visitors, in turn, spent their tourist euros in local hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. The acquisition of a further 20 acres saw him open a team-building centre for schools and the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association).
Padraig has been quoted as saying that farmers in Ireland have the power to kick-start rural enterprise and that if anyone owns 10 acres they have a jewel to be nurtured. He has also questioned the wisdom of handing down farming methods through the generations and suggests that farmers who tell the next generation that their way is the best and should be continued, are stifling innovation and farm diversification. He believes that farmers continue to fatten cattle and bemoan falling prices when there are so many other opportunities out there. He urges them to dig ponds to encourage fishermen to visit the area and put money in the farm’s bank account or to breed fish. He’s even suggested that farmers raise snails for the luxury food market.
Padraig is saying what many others are thinking, and he suggests that an enterprise board for farming should be established to nurture innovative ideas and encourage farm diversification. There are so many opportunities for farmers to turn their fortunes and those of their communities around, from setting aside farmland for tourist activities such as camping, cycling, and fishing, to renting out unused buildings or converting them into self-catering accommodation. He’s suggesting that anything is possible and that farmers should think outside the box.
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