‘Crops would have burned in the fields if we hadn’t in­stalled an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem’

Irish Independent - Farming - - ORGANICS - GRACE MA­HER

AS with most farm­ers, 2018 has proven a chal­leng­ing year for or­ganic veg­etable grower Vin­cent Grace.

Dif­fi­cult weather con­di­tions this year forced Vin­cent to al­ter his orig­i­nal crop­ping plan for Rivers­field Farm, lo­cated just out­side Cal­lan, Co Kilkenny.

Some suc­ces­sion sow­ings of crops such as beet­root did not oc­cur as the ground was too dry for seeds to ger­mi­nate. This has led to some yield deficits.

“Con­di­tions be­came so dry that I in­stalled an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem for field pro­duc­tion and it was vi­tal to the sur­vival of crops such as leeks, oth­er­wise they would sim­ply have burned up in the field,” says Vin­cent.

“Yields have been af­fected par­tic­u­larly in crops such as pota­toes — we grow early and main-crop pota­toes. Yields are back al­most 50pc as the plants sim­ply did not bulk up in terms of fo­liage or tu­ber for­ma­tion.

“The only ad­van­tage of the dry weather was that weed pres­sure re­mained low.

“Ev­ery year you learn more about veg­etable grow­ing but this year was enough to test any grower’s tol­er­ance.”

Vin­cent started Rivers­field Farm in 2013, keen to grow or­ganic veg­eta­bles for the lo­cal mar­ket. He stud­ied hor­ti­cul­ture via dis­tance learn­ing at the Or­ganic Col­lege in Co Lim­er­ick, be­fore be­com­ing cer­ti­fied or­ganic by the Ir­ish Or­ganic As­so­ci­a­tion.

The farm is 11 acres with ap­prox­i­mately four ro­ta­tional acres in veg­etable pro­duc­tion; the rest of the land is planted with fer­til­ity-build­ing green ma­nure crops.

Rivers­field is one of the 11 farms par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Max­imis­ing Or­ganic Pro­duc­tion Sys­tems (MOPS) project, and Vin­cent re­cently held a Field Talk event which at­tracted com­mer­cial grow­ers and stu­dents.

“We sup­ply al­most 20 restau­rants in the lo­cal area and some lo­cal or­ganic grow­ers and we are start­ing to sup­ply lo­cal Su­perValu stores with our salad crops,” he says.

“While the MOPS project only started in June this year, al­ready it has started to shape what we are do­ing here.

“Through the process of record­ing what is hap­pen­ing on the farm it has al­ready made me think about the crops I grow here, how they are per­form­ing, from an agron­omy point of view but also in the mar­ket­place, which is very im­por­tant in terms of fu­ture plan­ning for my busi­ness.”

All of the crops are sown at the farm, with the ex­cep­tion of leek trans­plants, which are brought in from Hol­land as there are no or­ganic va­ri­eties be­ing grown to trans­plant stage in Ire­land.

At the Field Talk event, the crops looked in good con­di­tion, with very lit­tle nu­tri­ent de­fi­ciency or pest prob­lems ev­i­dent.

De­spite re­cent rain­fall the soil was dry un­der­neath the plants, which may af­fect pro­duc­tion of some crops, such as win­ter bras­si­cas.

“Our salad pro­duc­tion did very well in the hot weather as it was in high de­mand,” says Vin­cent.

“I com­pleted the Food Acad­emy pro­gramme, which was good train­ing for essen­tial as­pects like im­prov­ing mar­ket­ing skills.

“By be­ing in­volved in the MOPS project I hope to ben­e­fit from work­ing with 10 other grow­ers to see how we can work col­lab­o­ra­tively to in­crease our com­bined out­put as the de­mand con­tin­ues to grow for or­ganic fruit and veg­eta­bles.

“As a small farm it can be chal­leng­ing to suc­ceed at mar­ry­ing sup­ply with di­verse mar­ket de­mands.

“By work­ing closer with other grow­ers hope­fully we can fine-tune our col­lec­tive sup­ply to be more ef­fi­cient at farm level, which in turn will make my busi­ness more sus­tain­able.”


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