Cork organic farmer on slow farming and a strong market

A Co. Cork organic farmer whose apple juice is enjoying the taste of success, has been awarded funding from the Heritage Council’s Traditional Farm Buildings Scheme for conservation work on a walled 4ac orchard. The orchard borders Doneraile Court, and was planted up in 2016.

“From the old Ordinance Survey maps it was originally an orchard in the mid-1800s but went back into grazing sometime in the mid-1900s,” said award-winning farmer, Patrick Frankel. His late father – who was the local GP in Doleraile – started farming at Kilbrack in the mid-1970s, keeping drystock, cattle and sheep.

The 145ac farm converted to organic in 2002. Frankel keeps Aberdeen Angus and Limousin cattle, Charollais/Kerry Hill sheep, and Legarth geese.

Kilbrack Organic Farm is also funded by the Department of Agriculture under the GLAS and organic farming schemes. “This has been crucial to keeping the farm maintained and improving our productivity,” said Frankel.organic

“We farm using traditional methods, but can also achieve intensive production, especially in the 4ac vegetable plot. Using green manures and animal manure, we have highly fertile and workable soil and can intensively space crops and still get great results with little pest or disease problems,” he said.

Our orchard and livestock are not intensive and would be much less productive per acre compared to modern non-organic systems. However, our inputs are much less as there are no fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides or animal doses to buy and apply, so this is one aspect where we save on cost.

“Also because we have a niche product with our organic apple juice and organic meat, we could sell it directly from the farm or through local markets and achieve a much higher return than selling to processors or wholesalers. So while the work is perhaps more time consuming for less product than modern intensive systems, there is a strong market for our products, and not always the necessity for a middle man,” said Frankel.

Kilbrack Organic Farm’s apple juice is an emerging product. The old walled garden was planted with apple trees around vegetable plots. “We use these apples to make our juice, and from this year on we plan to complement this with apples from our new orchard.

“Apples are picked in September, keeping a balance between sweet varieties such as coxes; Red Prince; and Charles Ross, and the more acidic types such as Bramleys. All our apples are juiced by Con Trass at The Apple Farm near Cahir,” Frankel said.

A total of 3,400 bottles were produced in 2016. The juice is sold to local shops in Mallow as well as restaurants and cafes in Cork City and east Cork.

They include Greene’s restaurant; the Crawford Art Gallery Café; Ballymaloe Café; Pepper Restaurant; Palmers; and Myo Café. “Bradleys are supporters of our organic juice, and we also sell from our Farmers’ Market on the Coal Quay,” said Frankel.

The orchard has been planted with 320 trees. “The spacing is 18ft between each tree and 20ft between each row, so very unintensive. We graze the grass with geese and take two cuts for haylage each year between the rows. It is a sort of agroforestry but this will stop once the trees widen out. We plan to plant a mix of perennial flowers and herbs around the trees to increase biodiversity, and perhaps for sale,” Frankel said.

Kilbrack Organic Farm is also a demonstration farm. “Most years we welcome six to nine groups throughout the growing year on our farm. This ranges from Irish Organic Farmers and Growers’ Association (IOFGA) field talks to farmer groups, local primary schools and organic agricultural colleges.

The main focus is on organic vegetable production but also the new orchard is of big interest. Grassland management is something we are trying to improve, and this is also a topic touched on.

Frankel avails of the assistance of volunteers from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) throughout the year. “This has been a truly fantastic experience and we enjoy sharing what we do with them. Usually most years would see 30 to 40 WWOOFers pass through the farm, with up to 15 here at the high point in the summer for a month or so.

“The volunteers are keen to learn about farming, and to live in a rural English-speaking setting, and we in turn benefit from all their help and good company.

“Farms like ours which are set out with old buildings, walled gardens and orchards were designed for many hands on deck. WWOOFing has been the opportunity to make this possible and breath life into all the corners of the farm.”

The coming months will be crucial at the farm. “We will collect the apples and later prune the trees. Vegetable sales should be strongest now until mid-November and we will be replanting the tunnels for winter salads and spinach. Also we will be sowing green manures in our outdoor plots to keep the soil ‘green’ through the winter.

Our store cattle will go to Kilmallock Mart or to Good Herdsman, an excellent organic beef processor, at the end of September, so this is also a big month for us.

“Christmas is not a particularly busy time traditionally for us. However, we have started a vegetable box scheme in our local community, and hopefully will be able to supply the vegetable side of more Christmas dinners this year.”

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