Helen Keys and Charlie Mallon, both members of the NFFN farm 50 acres near Cookstown in county Tyrone. The farm was traditionally dairy and then a suckler herd but in the last few years they have diversified into flax, potatoes, oats and hemp but it wasn’t an easy journey.
‘We wanted to be more sustainable – both financially and environmentally. It was such hard work because we knew nothing except cattle and growing grass. We were going to conferences, talking to other farmers, joining online forums, doing training courses, reading books, it was exhausting and the variety of options was a bit overwhelming. I kept thinking we just need someone to look at the farm, tell us what crops would suit and what might generate some income.’
Helen got a crop specialist and a software developer together to kick some ideas around. They came up with a concept which they pitched to Techstart to secure a Proof of Concept grant. The first version will be an online platform where a farmer can input some basic information like location, cropping history, available machinery, that will be assessed against a list of produce that local restaurants want to buy. The farmer will then receive some suggestions for crops that suit the situation and also have some market demand. Farmers can list what they have planted so if the demand is met those crops will no longer be recommended to reduce the risk of gluts.
‘Restaurants are suffering right now but we need to keep innovating and building for the future. Projects like this take time and we’ll be prepared to adapt to whatever the situation is when we launch next year.’
The platform will be piloted early next year and the team are looking for input from local farmers and restaurants to help with the design and the first pilot. Click here to share your thoughts and get involved in the pilot.