‘Small businesses can survive difficult times’: Mill celebrates 100 years in business

Farming 100 years ago definitely had its differences compared to now. Yet, while many things have changed, some things have remained run-of-the-mill.

A century ago in a rural town in north Tipperary, John Hastings started his milling business. This year, the family celebrates the 100-year milestone since the establishment of Hastings, John Hastings & Sons Ltd in Roscrea.

The mill has been through a lot. Ivan Hastings, grandson of John, is the third generation of the Hastings family to work in the animal feed mill.

Change is not always for the worst

He reflected on how the business has survived many upheavals like foot-and-mouth disease, Ireland joining the European Economic Community (EEC), the recession in 2008 and, most recently, Covid-19.

Ivan feels these changes are “not always for the worst and we should not fear change”.

Ivan said that the town of Roscrea has seen many businesses come and go and when his grandfather John left his home town of Abbeyleix in the early 1900s, it was a “daring move in a time of national and European upheaval”.

John bought a water mill in June 1920 and, thus, the beginning of a century-long tradition began.

In Roscrea, farming was mixed at those times – many people were self-sufficient with providing food for their family, so they typically had a few cows, pigs, fowl and also horses to help with farm work.

Local farmers would arrive at John’s mill with their horses and carts with large hessian bags of grain that were tied at the neck with wire, to be milled or rolled by grinding stones powered by the water wheel, for their animals’ needs.

Ivan began working in the mill in 1977 and recognises that he is now working in a very competitive sector, compared to the early days of the business.

“Being a small mill, its strength is that it can discuss and cater to individual farmers’ needs more easily due to our hands-on approach,” he explained.

“Where possible, we endeavour to use high-quality Irish barley in support of Irish farmers, as well as field beans, soya, pulp, oats and maize as their main ingredients.

Animal nutrition has greatly changed over the years and is now a more precise science for the health and development of the animal than ever before.

What his grandfather did back in 1920 remains the inspiration for what Ivan and his team do now.

“It was a brave move in the 1920s to purchase a business, encouraging us now to know good times will come again and small businesses can survive difficult times.”