Kilbeggan Organic Foods is a successful family business run by Pat Lalor from his farm in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath.
The Lalors have always grown cereal on Ballard Farm as part of a balanced and sustainable crop rotation. In times gone by their aim was to grow cereals for beef cattle and to sell the surplus cereal.
This all changed in July 1999 when Pat decided to convert to ‘Certified Modern Organic Farming’; and so began Ballard Organic Farm. The Lalor’s organic oats crop was of such a good quality that it was decided in 2011 to develop the grain into products sold under the Kilbeggan Organic Foods brand.
Since the 1970’s farming production systems in Ireland and across Western Europe, became intensive
with the emphasis on production. In some cases this led to over production and the introduction of production limits or quotas.
“This resulted in reduced income from mainstream farming and hence the need arose for me to find other means of land use in order to maintain the family’s income,” says Pat.
“I spent a few years looking at a small number of alternatives, and I finally plucked up the courage to go for fully certified organic farming. The key issue which swung it for organic farming was that there was a clear message coming from the market place; ‘we want organic food and we are prepared to pay for it’.
“My main reason for changing over to organic production was to make more money,” Pat admits. “The experience has been rewarding both in terms of economic returns and job satisfaction.
“But I suppose since then I’ve come to enjoy the organic way of farming.
“When I was a conventional farmer, I was a chemistry farmer but as an organic farmer, I am a biology farmer.”
My job is to nurture the soil, look after it, get it into the best possible state of health, so it will grow crops that are disease free. “In conventional farming, there is a tendency to dominate nature, while in organic farming one must work with nature. Being an organic farmer is like being a real farmer again, one must try to understand the science of the soil and work with it, not dictate to it. “
Today, five years since Pat set about producing, packaging and marketing his own consumer ready organic porridge, his products are being sold not only across Ireland, but in markets as far away as New York, Singapore, Thailand and the Middle East.
His Organic Porridge Oats has also received multiple awards, including a Great Taste Award 2013. These awards attracted over 9,500 entries from Ireland and the UK and were blind-judged by a panel of food experts.
“Accessing LEADER funding down through the years has been highly valuable to my business, particularly in the development of a visitor centre on my farm, which has been beneficial for tourism development and as a training centre. We have also benefited from the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS). “
Looking ahead, Pat is very positive about the future of Kilbeggan Organic Foods. “There is a lot of good will out there for artisan businesses like this, and I get a lot of pleasure from this job.”