West Cork farm tours lead the way

A group of farmers and hoteliers in west Cork have joined forces to give tourists an insight into Irish farming practices and communities.

West Cork Farm Tours, which has featured in the Lonely Planet tourist guide, aims to showcase the innovation in farming, creative food producers, and vibrant communities that set unspoilt west Cork apart.

The aim was to highlight how farming is still very much a family affair on the Wild Atlantic Way – and to offer an immersive experience to tour groups of farmers from other countries, or general interest groups looking to visit working farms.

The tours are shaped to meet the individual requirements of visitors.

Denis O’Donovan, who owns Roury Hill Farm – which is located halfway between Rosscarbery and Glandore – with his wife Collette, said that the farms tours were launched last November.

Approximately 12 have been organised to date. The tours run as requested and can be booked on the West Cork Farm Tours website.

The other farmers involved are: dairy farmers Micheal and Marguerite Crowley, Skibbereen; beef farmer Tommy Moyles, Ardfield; pig farmers Willie and Avril Allshire, Rosscarbery; and dairy farmers John Joe and Theresa O’Sullivan.

The participating hotels are: The Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery and the Emmet Hotel and Fernhill House Hotel, both in Clonakilty.

Neil Grant, general manager of The Celtic Ross Hotel, said that a local tourism forum had been exploring what west Cork could offer above other areas in Ireland and Europe.

A couple of local farmers were talking about how they would welcome farming groups from overseas to their farms to share ideas. The question was asked: ‘Would an overseas tourist like to visit an Irish farm?’

“The answer, we all felt, was yes; they would. At a local west Cork farming awards lunch, six farmers got chatting around this and decided to give it a go. One had to drop out for a year for personal reasons but they will be back,” he said.

Visitors have come from all over the globe, according to Denis O’Donovan who farms 66ha, half of which is leased. “The milking platform is 44ha where we milk 150 Jersey cross cows. We sell about 440kgs of milk solids. We have a very compact spring-calving system, with 88% calving in six weeks.

“Cows graze grass for around 300 days every year – which makes up most of the cows’ diet. The crossbreed cows are very high in milk protein and butterfat and they are easy-care cows that go back in calf easily.

“It’s a family-run business with my wife, Collette, and 15-year-old son, Eoghan, rearing the calves in the spring. My dad, DJ, also is very active around the farm. Contractors are used for silage, slurry and baling,” said Denis.

The O’Donovan family farm – and the farms of the others taking part – have drawn an enthusiastic response from the visitors.

We have had Texas college students as well as Austrian and German groups. They were blown away with our story of grass-fed farming and our stunning views.

The tours – which last between one and two hours – fit in with farming calendars, and involve hearing about and seeing the story behind the participating farms.

There haven’t been any insurance problems, with everything running smoothly so far, according to Denis. “The only problem we came across was funding – we didn’t get any funding which was disappointing.”

Neil Grant said that the key thing from his perspective is that the visitor experience seems to have captured overseas guests’ imaginations.

“As a result, west Cork is now on itineraries that previously bypassed the area. I met a tour operator that was not considering coming to west Cork and when I showed them a promo film of West Cork Farm Tours, she all of a sudden became interested. The farm tour is an authentic and real Irish experience and a window into everyday Irish life.”

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The unique selling points of the farm tours, Neil said, are: the stunning locations, with some on the ocean; the farm families and their stories; and the world class quality of their product or raw material. “Many of the farmers are award-winning for their product or milk quality.”

2017, he said, was about awareness and PR around the farm tours. “I promoted them at the various tour operator trade shows to garner if there was an interest and we entertained journalists from Germany, Switzerland, national Irish media and guests from the US and Austria as well as Irish tour operators.”

Turning to 2018 and 2019, Neil said they already had solid tour operator bookings from the US and major interest from Germany.

“There will be a push to attract people already staying in west Cork by circulating flyers to tourist offices and in the partner hotels, Fernhill House and the Emmet in Clonakilty and the Celtic Ross. The early signs are that demand is high.”