Glenbarrow Producer Group

Laois Partnership Company has a proud history of promoting economic and social development in the county. Their Glenbarrow Farms project illustrates how they’ve applied their own expertise and LEADER funding in this regard.

Under the LEADER programme, Laois LEADER Rural Development Company (now Laois Partnership Company) engaged with low-income farmers to enhance their farm income, and to develop strategies that would address their long-term viability. They carried out a major study under the Leader II programme, looking at the feasibility of developing a regional brand. They concluded that there was potential to build upon the loyalty that Laois people felt for their own area through developing a niche market for high-quality farm produce that was sourced and processed locally.

Building a regional brand called for action in a number of areas. An organisational structure was needed to oversee the brand’s development. Local food  processors would need to be brought on board, with stronger links fostered between them and the producers. As the brand would focus on a high-quality product, the implementation of standards and procedures was deemed important; and initiatives for marketing the brand were also required.

The initial step for Laois LEADER was to approach a local meat processor and propose the development of a regional brand that would incorporate a premium product. The processor would be guaranteed high quality in the raw material in return for agreements on a price level for suppliers. The local product would in turn command a premium price in County Laois. Following negotiations, the meat processor agreed in principle to a contract with local farmers, where quality and price would be guaranteed.

Animation and capacity building…

Armed with this agreement, Laois LEADER turned next to the task of animation and capacity building among the suppliers. A number of public meetings were organised to explain to local farmers how the scheme would add value to their produce. There was a high level of interest in the scheme and a large number of farmers signed up.

At this point, the LEADER company put in place structures through which the regional brand could be developed. They approached the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) for support in developing a co-operative structure that would be owned, managed and run by local farmers. ‘Glenbarrow Farms’ was the name given to this co-operative.  Laois LEADER then contacted Teagasc and received a commitment from their CEO to sit on the board of ‘Glenbarrow Farms’.

As the experience of running their own co-operative organisation was a new one for the farmers involved, LEADER staff worked closely with them to provide the necessary training, to facilitate the development of the co-operative structure and to build the capacity of the group so that they could run their own affairs.

…and ensuring quality

With the framework of an agreement in place and an organisational structure established, quality assurance became the next focus of attention. Standards needed to be defined, training organised and inspection systems developed to ensure that standards were met. In conjunction with Teagasc, ‘Glenbarrow Farms’ put together a quality-assurance training programme and inspection system involving farm visits from Teagasc and from the food processor. All of these initiatives mean that both the processing company and the consumer are assured of a top-quality product under the ‘Glenbarrow Farms’ name.

In order to ensure a continual focus on quality and improvement, ‘Glenbarrow Farms’ have organised factory visits for farmers along with ‘farm walks’ that are used to show examples of best practice and to provide a forum for discussing quality issues. From a breeding point of view, ‘Glenbarrow Farms’ has worked with local cattle markets to organise the sale of special breeds suitable for ‘Glenbarrow Farms’ quality products.

Marketing

The development of a joint marketing initiative for the products was key to getting the project off the ground. Laois LEADER provided a grant of €20,000 for the development of marketing and promotional material. Furthermore, they helped ‘Glenbarrow Farms’ to access expert advice on marketing from an international food production and retail group. Links were also forged with Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board that works to develop markets for food products.

Some project results

While the financial input from LEADER has been relatively modest,  ‘Glenbarrow Farms’ relied heavily on Laois LEADER to guide their strategic development, to support them with capacity-building measures, to sponsor training initiatives, and to develop links with agencies that could help the group.  This technical support and staff time that the LEADER company committed has been hugely significant, and has been crucial in delivering on the objectives of the project.

The agreement between the processing company and farmers has been in place for six years now and a level of trust and mutual respect has built up, something which has been rare in these situations.  The scheme ensues that the farmer gets the same price for their animals whether they have five cattle or five hundred to sell.  The scheme is thus supporting the smaller farmers in the county.The project also guarantees that the processing company has a secure supply of quality meat. This in turn has allowed them to develop their high-profile international accounts.

Over the past six years, the Glenbarrow project has added significantly to the county’s economy – current estimates put the annual contribution at €200,000.

Currently there are 240 farmers in the Glenbarrow Farms Co-operative.   Members pay a one-off fee to join and then pay a small fee to the co-operative for each animal processed. In this way, the group is financially self-sustaining.   ’Glenbarrow Farms’ employ a part-time co-ordinator to support the organisation’s management. The board has revitalised the co-operative rules and it is looking at developing other services to support group members.  For example, it has organised a number of cattle sales and also worked on developing a specially formulated Glenbarrow mix for farmers with Glanbia which is available at a special price to Glenbarrow members.

Looking to the future, ‘Glenbarrow Farms ‘is expected to be a significant economic driver in Laois. Glenbarrow provides a very useful model in the current challenging economic times, when the need for individuals to work together for the benefit of all is all the more pressing.  Laois Partnership Company will continue to work with Glenbarrow Farms to develop  more services for their membership base.

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