Dan MacCarthy meets a couple who have added to their farm income by embracing agri-tourism
FARM income prospects have improved, but revenue streams outside of conventional farming are always worth considering for boosting the low average income in agriculture.
For some, this could mean taking a part-time job; for others, it could be capitalising on what is in front of their noses — the land itself, through agri-tourism.
This is a growing economic sector, with more and more farmers looking to develop ideas, often in partnership with Teagasc and similar development bodies.
One obvious opportunity is to open up your land to hillwalkers. Many existing hill walk routes pass through farmland, but farmers can set up their own routes or access points — or simply provide parking for hillwalkers and charge a fee for it. Hillwalkers are generally delighted to park in a secure area where their cars are protected.
Meanwhile, ‘family farms’ where children can come and visit the animals are springing up all over the country. Some expand that idea further and provide overnight accommodation with extended activities around the farm.
According to Teagasc experts on agri-tourism, “the tourist wants a place to stay, something to eat, and something to do. Farm families who have developed a successful rural tourism business are acutely aware of this and have targeted one or more of these needs. The full package of accommodation, food and activity needs to be available in the locality, it doesn’t have to be provided by the same person. Good businesses are built on filling a gap in the market, complementing existing products, doing things that bit better or in a more innovative way that the competition.”
One such business is King’s Yard in the foothills of the Galtee mountains, at Knocknagalty, Kilbehenny, Co Limerick, which claims to provide a full range of services for all climbers and walkers in the area.
“Opening up the farm has been very positive,” says Bridget Ryan of King’s Yard. “We always had people passing through, but now there are a lot more. Visitors come from all over the country, with some from the UK and mainland Europe.”
On their busy weekends, there are up to 25 cars in the car park, at €2 a pop. It’s cheap for the security for the car, but represents a steady income for the Ryans. Add in additional income from the tea and coffee machines and vending machine, and the venture looks well worth the effort. In the summer, camping facilities are available at €8 for a single person at €8, and for a family at €12.
There are many repeat visitors, and people often come for a weekend, taking in a day’s hill walking on the Galtees before taking to the Ballyhouras for mountain biking.
King’s Yard opened on the May bank holiday in 2008. They drew their inspiration from an article about Cronin’s Yard at the foot of Carrauntoohil in Co Kerry. That site also offers a small cafe to hikers, as well as hot showers, and parking for €2.
“We were thinking about it for a while and we noticed that Carrauntoohil lay behind them and we had Galtymore on our doorstep, so we said we could do something similar. So that inspired us to do it. And we haven’t looked back,” says Bridget.
King’s Yard supplements the Ryans’ income from hill farming, they have upwards of 600 sheep to mind as well as weanling calves to raise, sold on at 18 months old.
“We buy in 80 calves each year either in spring or autumn and we bucket rear them,” says Bridget. “We mostly buy these at the mart, but from time to time we buy directly from other farmers also,” she says.
Bridget doesn’t hesitate in recommending tourism for anyone considering opening up their farms. “Everyone’s situation is different. We are unique in that we had a road leading directly to one of the access points to Galtymore. Everyone needs to sit back and look at what they have. But I certainly recommend farming tourism to any farmers that would be able to turn their hand to it.”
The Ryans had no financial backing to convert buildings for the tea room and showers — although Bridget says LEADER funding was available to them and to others thinking of agro-tourism.
“At the time, we could have got LEADER funding, but we went ahead on our own and took the risks. If it worked out, it worked out, and if it didn’t, it didn’t. That’s the way we looked at it,” she says.
“It’s working out very well for us. Over time, you get a lot of repeat business. People come back again and again. But the main feedback we get from the hill walkers is that they are delighted with the secure parking. If their car is safe they can walk with an easy mind. They can be out for four or five hours,” she says.
The Ryans erected additional signage to the mountains, direction signs to Galtymore and to King’s Yard, in addition to the existing road signs.
“We’re always looking to improve, to do something different. This year we’re hoping the new walks that Ballyhoura Development in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland are putting in will pass through or near our land. Our yard would be the starting point.”
The couple still take to the hills themselves, but with the recent arrival of twins, Bridget says she has less time on her hands.
King’s Yard have their own website and a presence on Facebook through the Ballyhoura website.
Finally, and perhaps most important, is the isolation factor. There is now a regular flow of visitors to what was previously a secluded region.
King’s Yard frequently hosts mountain rescue events, and was the venue for a launch of the recent Galtees Pictorial Guide production by Jimmy Barry.
* On June 9, King’s Yard will be the starting point for a walk to Galtymore to mark the 50th anniversary of the patrician year cross, when five men brought the cross to the mountain summit on the famous gun carrier, the Katie Daly.
* kingsyard.wordpress.com www.ballyhouracountry.com
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