Irish Couple Finds Success in Growing Aronia Plants on Organic Farm
Steve and Claire Collins, a couple with a background in overseas humanitarian work, have discovered a profitable alternative to traditional farming on their organic farm in the west Cork hills. The couple, who left their lives in Dublin behind to pursue their farming dreams, stumbled upon a deserted 140-acre farm in Bantry during a mountain walk. In 2005, they became the owners of Cuibin, Derry Duff, with a vision to revive the land and establish an organic mixed farm.
Despite facing challenges such as poor access to the farm, the Collins have been steadily bringing the disused land back to productivity over the years. Initially, they focused on rearing organic Dexter cattle, but soon realized that it was difficult to make a profit, especially on a marginal hill farm. They supplied Michelin-star restaurants but struggled to charge enough for their meat. Eventually, they reduced their Dexter herd to just 20 animals and continued to supply pedigree organic breeding stock.
To make the farm more profitable, the couple started experimenting with different crops that could thrive on their poor acidic soil. They began growing blueberries on the lower land and dedicated one acre of rough rocky clay, 200 meters above sea level, to organic aronia berries. Aronia bushes are hardy and deep-rooted, making them ideal for poor quality land. They also contain the highest levels of polyphenols of any plant or vegetable. The Collins use the berries in their PhyterBerry juice and other products, which have seen an increasing demand due to the health benefits experienced by consumers.
Steve Collins emphasized the ease of growing aronia berries, stating that they require minimal care and are a viable alternative for sheep farmers. He compared the potential returns, explaining that sheep farming on rough mountain moorland would yield around €50 per acre, while they hope to produce a tonne of aronia berries this year, which can be sold for €4-5 per kilogram.
Recognizing the growing demand for their PhyterBerry products, the Collins are in a position to guarantee purchase for interested farmers. They currently cultivate around 3,000 aronia plants and approximately 7,000 blueberries, with plans to expand their PhyterBerry brand and develop more value-added products. The couple is collaborating with Teagasc and TUS (Technological University of the Shannon) Midwest, formerly Limerick Institute of Technology, to further research and develop new products.
In addition to their farming endeavors, the couple has also diversified their business by building a luxury lodge called ‘The Hidden Haven’ overlooking a small lake on their farm. The lodge offers guests a stylish and comfortable space to relax while immersing themselves in nature on a working organic farm.
Steve and Claire Collins have spent the past 15 years exploring various ways to make their cattle farm profitable, but with little success. They have now found hope in aronia farming, especially as traditional farming grants continue to decrease. Steve believes that aronia berries can serve as a viable plan B for farmers struggling to make a living.