Does Origin Green not have to mean Origin Ireland?

Many of the questions people were asking at the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) malting barley meeting on Monday night (February 4) were in relation to the production of ‘Irish’ drinks from product that is not of Irish origin.

A large number of people suggested a campaign to highlight the fact that Guinness the brand, which is built on the tradition of growing Irish malting barley for its product, is not supporting the Irish malting barley farmer.

Social media campaigns and a march to St. James’s Gate were some of the suggestions from the crowd if a better deal is not achieved.

The IFA’s malting barley committee will meet Boortmalt this morning (Wednesday, February 6) to discuss a price arrangement for the season ahead.

Frustrated farmers

The frustration on farmer’s minds was clear to see at Monday’s meeting. Many farmers should be ordering seed at the minute, others have planted.

It’s February; we’re a month away from sowing barley.

Deal due on several previous occasions

A deal was due at the end of September. As Christmas approached the IFA described how they were happy with a deal put before them by Boortmalt. However, this deal didn’t come to fruition.

Mark Browne, the chairperson of the malting barley committee, stated: “There has always been three parties in the negotiations. We deal with Boortmalt and then Boortmalt deals with its customers.

“This year we did think that we were definitely making progress with Boortmalt and when they went to their customers it didn’t seem to be accepted as strong as other years. How that happened we don’t know.

Their customers have gone global as to where they source their grain.

This caused a lot of controversy in the audience. Farmers described how many drinks have been promoted and sold based on their Irish origin and being made from Irish malting barley.

Also Read: ‘€200/t minimum’ or they’ll be outside the gates of Guinness

One farmer added: “Boortmalt is a member of Origin Green, as all of us here are a part of Origin Green or a part of what feeds into it. The idea of this from the Government was to push forward Irish produce; to market Irish produce.

As far as I know Diageo have also bought into that, but yet they can import whatever they want, whenever they want and it’s still being sold as the same product.

“Irish distillers in Cork are bringing in maize by the boat load for the production of whiskey. The barley we’re producing is a premium product, but the companies we’re supplying are not acknowledging it.

I know this deal is just with Boortmalt, but it’s still a market we’re all feeding. In Scotland, they can only use Scottish barley in Scottish whiskey because it’s legislated. Maybe we need to go to the Government and get something legislated.

Another farmer made a very simple, but important point.

“We still don’t know what we’re getting. Diageo knows what it’s getting for a pint; Boortmalt knows what it’s getting for a tonne of malt. They know what they’re charging for a tonne of seed.

“I can’t understand how this year they were able to pay €230/t because the barley was scarce – that’s the only reason they paid it because they couldn’t get it.

I can’t understand why they can’t set a minimum price of €200/t and I’d say everyone in this room would be happy.

Origin Ireland

Origin Green is based on producing food and drinks sustainably in this country. At present, malting barley is not a sustainable crop to grow for many farmers.

Importing barley to produce ‘Irish’ drinks doesn’t seem to buy into the whole sustainable ethos either. Maybe negotiations today will find a common ground.