B y: P o l l y M c C l u r e
This past summer, the Jefferson County Farmers Federation board accompanied other members of the Alabama Farmers Federation on an agricultural education tour throughout Ireland. Led by two experienced agritourism guides, Gerry Giggins, a former feed-lot manager with the Irish Agricultural Development Company, and his son Aonghus, our group gained unique access to the best farms, agri-industry enterprises, gastronomy, countryside and culture throughout Ireland.
One of the first stops was a cereal farm in Dunleer. While Ireland is a net importer of cereal grains, there is a very specialized and efficient group of growers producing grain in Ireland for the home market. Spring barley is the most popular cereal crop, grown by over 9,000 farmers in 2010. It is used for the malting, seed, and feed industries.
Ireland is currently the 10th largest dairy export nation in the world, with over 1.1 million dairy cows on approximately 20,000 farms. “It was eye-opening to see the efficiency of each of the cattle and dairy farms that we visited”, said board member, Brad Fuller. Members were able to see one of the largest and leading suckler beef farms in Ireland, as well as, visit a beef farm finishing lot and a grass-based beef farm where most of the animals are finished at pasture and are supplied to supermarkets through a farmer-producer group.
Members were also treated to a visit to Crosse Irish Sheep Milk Company with a tasting of milk and cheese produced by a couple of brothers. “The blue cheese was some of the creamiest I had ever tasted--who would have thought it was made from sheep’s milk?”, said Shirley Bodiford, secretary for Jefferson County Farmers Federation.
Other stops on the tour included the Irish National Stud & Gardens in County Kildare, a unique attraction of outstanding national beauty that is home to some of the most magnificent horses and sumptuous gardens to be found anywhere in the world. Highbank Organic Farm & Orchard in County Kilkenny was a favorite with the group. A working farm since the 17th century, the first apple orchards were planted by the family in 1969, to complement the hop gardens.
No tour to Ireland would be complete without seeing the beautiful pristine coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way at Derrynane on the Ring of Kerry. Members of the group were led by an internationally known scientist on a uniquely designed inter-tidal foreshore walk that explored the rich natural heritage of the Kerry coastline, complete with culinary tastings of the variety of seaweeds along the shore.
Not only did the tour immerse our group in the culture of Ireland, but we were privileged to be led by a team that ensured that we had a thorough understanding of the agriculture industry.