‘I Had To Do Something Different, So This Diversification Was The Way To Go’

It has been a busy few weeks for Donegal farmer Andrew McShea. Not only has he taken up the role as a southern Ireland distributor for the fledgling agriculture fertiliser North Atlantic Seaweed, but more importantly, he has just sold his first batch of Tully House Organic Lamb into the Irish market.

Business is gearing up for the 43-year-old, who has come through a tough few years, having lost his father Teddy in October 2016 and then his entire herd of pure-bred Parthenaise to TB a few months later.

Having been unable to replace his precious suckler cows, Andrew then decided to concentrate solely on sheep and increase his numbers.

Andrew McShea and son

Andrew McShea and son

“I had never before gone down to TB, so I was devastated to lose the entire herd,” he said. “I only had 12 at the time, but had brought some in from France at great expense and had just started to sell some bulls. One cow got Miliary tuberculosis (TB) and we believe the others contracted it through the drinkers.”

Andrew grew up on a dairy farm and had only been in sucklers a few years when his livelihood was hit hard, but he had to keep going and, in those same few months, started the process of switching to organic farming after advice from a private planner.

“I had to do something different, so I think this diversification was the way to go,” he said. Andrew farms 36 acres of lowland, so started out with some horned ewes and then built up the flock with Kerry Hill, Suffolk and Texel.

He now keeps a breeding flock of 70 ewes which, this year, yielded 1.6 lambs per head.

Up to this year, Andrew would have sold off his lambs through the co-op at Donegal, but in recent weeks has, for the first time, sent them to Sean Rooney in Ballyshannon to be killed and, from there, to McGoverns Meats in Fermanagh for processing and packaging. This way, Andrew has full control and can ensure his produce is sold directly to the consumer while still making a profit.

“If I can sell a lamb for approximately €210 and make a profit after my expenses, I will be happy.” Andrew is a member of the IFA Organic Project Team and has received much support from its chairman Nigel Renehan.

“Andrew has been a great help and, just last week, organised the very first ‘Organic Producers Day’ at Marley Park.”

Food chain

Hosted by 26 organic producers from all over Ireland, its aim was to create awareness of the food chain from producer to the end consumer and to showcase Ireland’s sustainable organic sector.

“It was my first time to bring my own organic lamb and I came home with only a small tray of meat from the four killed, which was a great result.” He met quite a number of consumers at Marley Park and was keen to hear their opinions.

“I was the only farmer there with lamb and consumers told me they are all happy to pay extra for organic meat. They wanted to know where they could get it more often.”

Although Andrew is based in the north-west, he is now keen to set up meetings with hotels and restaurants in Dublin with a view to supplying organic lamb on a regular basis.

Andrew usually lambs indoors in March and it is a tight time-frame of four weeks.

“This year I am thinking of bringing the ewes in at Christmas and put them back out to lamb on grass in March.”

In addition to his new organic lamb business, Andrew is also eager to spread the word about North Atlantic Seaweed, which was also launched at Marley Park.

The brainchild of Gerry Berry, CytoATP is a biologically-enhanced biostimulant that acts as an organic fertiliser for a wide variety of farming practices, including tillage and vegetables.

“The business is based across the border, but the seaweed is actually sourced in Donegal and we hope now to roll it out across Ireland,” said Andrew.

Like so many farmers throughout Ireland, Andrew has a few other projects in the pipeline and, in time, hopes to get into organic tillage.

He also became a father to eight-month-old Lorcan earlier this year, and his job as an agricultural mechanic keeps him busy at home in the interim.

A former manager of Ballyshannon Mart, Andrew is now heavily involved in fund-raising for Cancer Care West through his role as chairman of Donegal IFA Rural Development. He lost his brother Joe to bowel cancer last year.

Through his role with the IFA, Andrew is keen to look after the small farmers ahead of the 2021 CAP reform.

“All of these schemes need farmer input and we are going to try our best to bring in a level-playing field for everyone,” he added.

(Source – Irish Independent – Indo Farming – My Week Siobhán English talks to Andrew McShea – 22/10/2019)

Farmer On Bouncing Back From A Devastating A Bovine TB Outbreak To Build Up A Thriving Organic Sheep Farming Business

Andrew McShea has bounced in Donegal.

Building resilience into any farm system is critical. It takes time but is something that should be top of the agenda for all farmers facing into a somewhat uncertain future.

Andrew McShea, who farms in Tully, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, is nothing if not resilient.

He converted his land to organic production with the Irish Organic Association in 2015 and was farming pure-bred Parthenaise cattle before disaster struck in the autumn of 2016 when the herd was struck down with TB.

“It was a very difficult period,” he recalls. “My father had recently passed away, and then the herd came down with TB and we incurred devastating losses.

“Having changed to organic farming there were new challenges which I had already embraced.

“However when TB struck it prompted me to adopt a different farm system and I decided to switch the focus to sheep production.”

Having produced top-quality cattle for many years, Andrew also felt that the margins were no longer viable.

“You spend a long time building up a pure-bred herd and farm outputs are excellent quality, but it is not reflected in the prices received so I felt that a different approach was required,” he says.

“The first step was to convert the farm to organic. Obviously I had not factored in the TB outbreak and the subsequent switch to sheep. However, it is all part of the risks that a farmer takes, and being able to adapt and move on is important.”

Once the decision to switch to sheep was made, Andrew began to build up his breeding stock, and he is preparing to lamb 60 ewes in the coming weeks.

The sheep are Texel and Kerry Hill crosses. In October 2019 Andrew took the farm business to the next level and began processing the meat to sell under the Tully House Organic Farm brand.

“This is an essential part of the business plan and the motivation for conversion to organic farming,” he says. “I saw that by selling direct to the consumer you can really add value to what you are producing on farm and there is a demand for good-quality organic meat products.

“As farmers we need to ensure that we are paid a decent price for what we produce and this development has given us an opportunity to do that.”

Andrew McShea with butcher John Dolan from McGovern Meats

Andrew McShea with butcher John Dolan from McGovern Meats


Given the debate about the environmental impact of meat production, it is important that farmers step up and play their part in developing sustainable food supply chains.

“There are many complex issues associated with food production and consumption, and our role as custodians of the land is to ensure that we do our best in terms of producing quality food while enhancing the environment,” says Andrew.

“For us we produce a truly sustainable local meat product. It is farmed organically to the highest production standards, then the lamb is transported four miles to the local abattoir run by Sean Rooney.

“It is then processed by local butcher John Dolan at McGovern Meats in Belleek, which is four miles in the other direction.

“We sell the meat as freezer-ready to local customers. This is real local food production, a top-quality local organic meat product that people want, and they are willing to pay a reasonable price to get it.”

In order to further enhance the sustainability of the lamb product Tully House Organic Farm have tried to source more sustainable packaging.

“We have biodegradable labels; however the glue does not biodegrade so that needs to be amended,” says Andrew.

“Trying to source trays for the meat has been really difficult as they do not retain the integrity of the meat product – this is particularly challenging as a small producer as the volumes we require are tiny compared to big processors.

“It is a really important aspect of our business model so we will continue the search to find the most sustainable packaging as it is link missing to complete the circle.”

In addition to farming Andrew works part time with the North Atlantic Seaweed company selling liquid seaweed fertiliser that is generally used as a bio-stimulant for plants.

“Farming is full of uncertainties and Brexit has done much to foster that,” he says.

“The only thing that we are sure of is that Brexit is happening and the next 12 months will be important for all farmers in terms of prices and production standards.

“For us taking more control over what we produce has been an important step in future-proofing the farm.”

(Source – Irish Independent – Indo Farming – Grace Maher – 14/02/2020)

Related Article:

Is Organic An Option For Your Farm

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