Reilly Mushrooms Ltd of Westmeath had reason to celebrate when the winners were announced at last year’s Bord Bia Origin Green Farmer Awards.
The Origin Green Farmer Awards, recognise and reward the exceptional performance of its Sustainable Quality Assurance schemes for beef, horticulture and dairy.
These schemes are pivotal to differentiating Irish food products in the global marketplace; participating farms meet high standards around food safety, animal health, welfare and traceability.
Judging for the Horticulture sector was completed by experts from Teagasc, University College Dublin and I.T. Blanchardstown.
The Judges commended the positive attitude and clear understanding of the importance of farm sustainability demonstrated by the finalists.
Each finalist exhibited an inherent understanding of the importance and relevance of implementing strategies to promote safe working systems for staff, increased energy efficiency, and to protecting and enhancing biodiversity and the environment on their farms through the use of modern technologies allied to well-established good agricultural practices.
Twelve producers were shortlisted based on their overall audit performance in the Sustainable Horticulture Assurance Scheme and are among the top performing horticultural farms in Ireland.
Each finalist was assessed across sustainability topics including crop husbandry, health and safety, farm labour, local community involvement, environmental/biodiversity measures and energy usage.
As the saying goes – there can be only one winner and the 2018 award went to Reilly Mushrooms Ltd of Athlone, Co Westmeath.
A family-business, established by Gerry and Mary Reilly in 1988 and run in conjunction with their sons, Kevin and Joe, the company currently produces 50 tons of fresh mushrooms per week and supplies both the Irish and UK markets via the Commercial Mushroom Producers (CMP) in Co Monaghan.
The company has 50 people on its payroll and produces two varieties of mushrooms, Button and Breakfast Flat.
“I won at the bingo once!” Gerry Reilly quipped when asked if the company had any other awards on its CV.
On a more serious note, he added: “We actually celebrated our 30th birthday in mushrooms on the day that the judges came to carry out their inspection. We picked our first mushroom on the October Bank Holiday weekend of 1988. The staff were after making a cake and we were having the cake when the inspectors came. There was good synergy to that.”
O’Reilly Mushrooms Ltd started with three tunnels and have since expanded their operation to 16 full sized mushroom tunnels.
Gerry continued: “I come from a farming background, dairy, and I was also working as an Engineer with Gulf & Western at that time. Neither was giving me job satisfaction and the mushroom idea came about through a friend of mine, Ray Walsh. I had never seen a mushroom house until March 1988 and that November we were up and running ourselves.
“Mary ran the show completely on her own for the first year as I stay stayed working as an engineer until the business started to take off. We were producing two tons per week at the start and today we’re up to 50 tons per week. Kevin and Joe then joined the business, Kevin in 2010 and Joe two years ago.”
Key sustainability measures implemented by Reilly Mushrooms includes the use of renewable fuel and solar panels for electricity production (Tom Foley and Solar Electric), the use of lean management techniques to drive efficiencies on farm, reviewing options for alternative packaging and market diversification and a high level of health and safety on farm with close attention to staff welfare.
A €200,000 investment in a centralised piped steam sterilisation system has eliminated the need for any disinfectant use also helped to swing the judging panel in their favour.
The mushroom industry is the largest horticultural sector in Ireland. It has a farm gate value of €136million, of which approximately 80% is exported to the UK.
As everyone involved at the coalface is well aware, these are challenging times for Ireland’s mushroom sector. Gerry – who served as National chairman of the IFA’s Horticulture section from 2012 to last year and has also been an active member of the CMP Board – admits the uncertainty is a cause of concern.
“The biggest challenge is, of course, Brexit. Every decision that is being made at the minute has to start with the word ‘If’. No one really knows the answers. 80% of our mushrooms end up in the UK. We export on a daily basis, our mushrooms are on shelves in the UK at 8am in the morning. What will happen if there is hard border because of Brexit? You are talking custom problems, tariffs and delays on lorries getting into the UK every day. We basically are playing a wait and see game at this stage.”
Regardless of how Brexit will unfold and the possible implications for Ireland’s mushroom producers, Gerry and his family will continue to do what they do best and that is using the best equipment and latest techniques to grow the best quality mushrooms.
With a strong focus on quality and service, they boasts over three decades of experience in the mushroom business and are very confident that they will continue to meet their valued customers’ requirements.
Reilly Mushrooms Ltd,
Tel: +35386 269 2012
Email: [email protected]
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 1, February/March 2019