Dubliner Rory Magorrian is delighted he has made the move from graphical printer to organic farmer.
When you arrive at Rory Magorrian’s busy 20 acres and white farmhouse in north Cork, you quickly understand why he and his family are basing their lives and business here: the farm is nestled in the hills between Ballyhooly and Glenville.
Rory’s wife, Sheila, and their three dogs greet me at the gate. Sons Seán, 4, and Dylan, 3, emerge from the kitchen. Rory strides across the bare concrete yard to shake my hand. We step through a ramshackle wire gate and begin to stroll across the farmland.
His voice is full of enthusiasm. He still has his native Dublin accent, though slight hints of local inflection seep through. Growing up in a Beaumont housing estate, he harboured no dreams of fields and furrows. His father grew vegetables at home, but lacked for willing accomplices.
“We were always used to fresh veg, and I suppose that kind of stuck with me... he wanted us to help him, and, sure, we didn’t want to be there at all. We couldn’t get far enough away. It’s only when we bought here that we grew a bit up at the house, and then we were tipping a bit around the yard. Well, we thought we were growing veg.”
A graphical printer by training, Rory first thought to start farming after being made redundant. Even after moving to the farmhouse in Kildinan, he intended to keep printing. The couple thought the land could be rented.
After Seán’s arrival, Rory started to consider farming full-time. Sheila was on maternity leave, and the couple knew it would be a risk to start a new business. But they took a chance.
“I didn’t want to be 90 and thinking, ‘God, I wish I’d done that’,”, he says. “All we can do is fail! That was the thinking, and it seems to be working out. It’s really this year we’ll see the benefit of prior work, and, hopefully, then next year we’ll just sharpen up on what we’re doing. But the potential, and the amount you could do, it’s unlimited.”
Rory is gratefulthat his redundancy pushed him into a change he might otherwise not have made.
“Where other people can actually give up a career and go into something new, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do that... We kind of said to ourselves, ‘A lot of businesses fail within the first five years, so we’ll give ourselves five years, and if it doesn’t work we’ll reassess’. If I had to, I could try and go back into printing, but, thankfully, it’s working.”
Rory brings his technical experience to his farming, and limits wasted effort.
“Even picking tomatoes or putting something in the ground, I try to get it as efficient as possible, withminimal amount of moves, because if you’re putting in a thousand leeks and you do an extra move, that’s an extra thousand moves,” he says.
As well as the crops in the fields, Rory uses four polytunnels, including one propagation tunnel. Plants are started from seeds on heated benches in the propagation tunnel, and, once they are bigger, moved to the growing tunnels. Tunnels allow Rory to control temperature and moisture, which is beneficial in Ireland’s unpredictable climate.
The family moved from conventional to organic farming sooner than planned. They had begun to supply their chemical-free lettuce to Herlihy’s Centra, in Fermoy, who asked if their products were organic. They had considered the switch, but hadn’t thought they were ready.
However, they applied for certification with the Organic Trust, who visited the farm tolearn the Magorrians’ plans.
The Trust provided information and support throughout the certification process. Two years and two inspections later, Rory is farming five certified organic acres. He says that the certification process is extremely detailed, but that its purpose is to providing assurance for the customer.
He recorded everything he did, including evidence of seed purchase and the dates seeds were planted in the soil. Plans for the future were also outlined. Rory says the Trust wanted traceability of how he was building fertility in the soil, and how he planned to sustain that in the future.
“They want to know what your future crop rotations are going to be, your future fertility building. It’s all about building and maintaining soil fertility... and full traceability for the customer.”
Rory says the detailed planning and recording required for certification are a benefit rather than a hindrance.
“It gave me great structure, and, every year, it gives us structure, planning for the following year. That might change through the year, as things change, but you have the plan and you can work towards it.”
The two-year certification process was completed in February, and the business is gaining ground locally. As well as supplying salad to Herlihy’s Centra and Reardon’s SuperValu, Rory runs a box scheme with Horan’s Health Stores, in Fermoy and Mitchelstown, which, he says, supplies 40 customers who pay between €5 and €50 each a week.
Rory drops in weekly orders to the shop, customers collect, and he gathers the money from the shop. He says the relationship is mutually beneficial.
“The same kind of customers are going into the health shop who are into organic veg, so one kind of helped the other.”
Rory originally tried home delivery of the boxes, but his gregariousness got the better of him.
“I was out all day, chatting. That’s what you do, you can’t just walk away,” says Rory, who also sells at Killavullen Farmers’ Market and, on Fridays, in Fitzgerald’s Place, in Fermoy.
Rory has become more and more convinced of organics as he has observed the effectiveness of the methods he has learned.
When I ask him about pest control, which organic farmers can’t carry out through conventional methods, he says it’s one of the things that impressed him about organics.
“This grass, down here, is left long, purposefully, to try to promote biodiversity,” he says.
“It’s to build up areas so that predators for slugs and greenfly, and all that, are actually in the hedgerows... they’ll control the pests for me, rather than me trying to biologically control them, which you’re obviously not allowed do in organics.
“In the fields, I’ve got five or six hundred kale plants, and the pigeons are eating something in the hedgerows.
“And I noticed that last year as well. I was like, ‘Wow, this actually works!’ If I’d strimmed everything, they’d probably eat the kale,” Rory says.
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