AgriLand talks to Liam Woulfe, Managing Director of Grassland Agro and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year nominee. Grassland Agro researches, develops and supplies a wide variety of fertilizer products.
Freshgrass was founded in 2002 by Liam Woulfe, Jim O’Mahony and Dave Ronayne, the purpose of the enterprise was to acquire and develop businesses where there was a strong potential for growth. Three businesses were acquired and developed; Grassland Fertilizers (2002), Golden Vale Dairies (UK) Limited (2003). A number of high scale acquisitions followed and today the Freshgrass’ operation cumulatively employees 160 people and approximately 50 full time contractors.
It’s most notable business deal was in 2012 when Grassland approached Groupe Roullier pitching to be elected its sole distributor in Ireland. The company was successful and a collaborative business model was formed.
Woulfe feels that strong customer relationships are key to commercial stability and growth as he tells AgriLand “Agri businesses in Ireland are generally very successful, even if with low margins, with very few ever getting into financial difficulty. The pragmatism of all parties in this sector to having very good customer relationships, best defined as “symbiotic relationships”, is renowned and is truly evident at all levels in the sector”.
Given the nature of Grassland’s area of expertise the fodder crisis proved a particularly busy and trying time for the company. “The fodder crisis caused our operations to require massive additional working capital as the normal season for use and thus sales of fertilizers and other inputs occurred 2 to 3 months later than normal”, elaborated Woulfe.
Teagasc have undertaken a number of research programs to prevent a similar situation from reoccurring and at the recent National Ploughing Championships it launched a ‘Winter Fodder and Financial Survival Guide’ booklet. Woulfe commends the organization’s proactive initiatives and feels the government will play a key role in the success of such programs. “The government must encourage maximization of cropping and support many of the good long term initiatives that Teagasc are doing to promote better farming and soil management which is the “root” solution to profitable and successful farming”, stated Woulfe.
He also urged the government to look further down the line at the issue of sustainability. “The government policy should be more focused on ensuring that every hectare of land in Ireland is being used for optimally productive and sustainable farming rather than the extremes of performance that currently exists. This would have a dramatic effect on Agri Ireland’s performance in a post quota environment and especially as out of every €10 of agricultural output €7 is left in Ireland”.
As an Entrepreneur of the Year nominee Woulfe has some practical guidance for agribusinesses. ”Be realistic in your expectations, always deliver external expectations, have well monitored performance criteria for all staff and always respect the needs and evolving pressures/opportunities of your customers” advised Woulfe.
The successful managing director will not be resting on his laurels and tell AgriLand of the company’s focus. “The next challenge for Freshgrass is to harness the knowledge of Groupe Roullier’s 350 research and development team to ultimately create products that will benefit Irish farmers. Their work encapsulates soil, plant and animal inputs to enable optimum performance at every level in the production of primary food”.