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Posted by on Oct 3, 2012 in Featured, Northway News | 0 comments

Growing Stronger Together

Growing Stronger Together

Northway Mushrooms is encouraging growers of all types of fruit and vegetables to discover the benefits of being part of a producer organisation.  At Horticulture NI the Northway team will be explaining the model they’ve used to build better sales, access funding and grow stronger, more successful member businesses.

Brendan Burns, Mushroom Advisor during a Farm Walk at Frank Donnellys explaining the mushroom growing cycle to local Bank Managers

Elaine Shaw, Operations Manager at Northway, says that the producer organisation model used by Northway can be applied to a wide range of growing sectors. “Producer organisations generally champion a specific product, but the structures, support, processes and marketing employed by a successful producer organisation can easily be applied to other products.

“For example, at Northway we’ve recently started supporting a group of local strawberry growers, helping them to work collectively to create a brand and build better sales.

“There is tremendous business growth and efficiency potential in growers working together in this way.  Having seen the hugely beneficial impact of this approach in strengthening and developing the Irish mushroom sector, we’re very keen to replicate this success in other sectors.

“It’s particularly important to nurture and to plan for success whilst we’re in the midst of this economic crisis.  Growers should be supported, should have someone fighting their corner and sharing resources so that business and sector development can be maximised.”

Amy McDowell, Joanne Shaw and Lauryn McDowell check out the lovely display of mushrooms in the Mushroom Trail during Balmoral Show

The Northway Mushrooms success story paints a clear picture of the benefits delivered to growers when they work together through a producer organisation.  Established in 2000 Northway Mushroom’s aims include educating and supporting growers to ensure maximum yields and profitability, achieving the best possible prices through collective marketing, shortening the supply chain to bring growers closer to consumers and supporting growers to reduce their energy costs.

The organisation markets 16,000 tonnes of mushrooms each year, with a combined annual turnover just under £30 million, and over the past 10 years has delivered an increase of 10p/lb for its member growers, as well as increasing member business efficiency and profitability.

This success has been achieved by activities such as production planning to anticipate supply, reducing costs through specialist picking training, supporting conversion from oil to energy efficient boilers, monitoring plant health standards, capital investment support for environmentally friendly investments and marketing, promotion and educational programmes.

Advice and support for members in relation to essential business considerations, such as Health & Safety, employment law and business planning, has also been critically important in creating stronger, more successful businesses, with general business support tailored for the specific demands and requirements of the horticulture sector.

Northway Mushrooms also play an important role in educating the public too, and the team made a big impression at Balmoral Show this year when they recreated a mushroom tunnel and took children and their families on a mushroom growing journey from start to finish.  Visitors to the stand were also encouraged to discover the super-food qualities of mushrooms, encouraging increased consumer demand for the product.

Mushroom growers during a farm walk at Orchard Mushrooms an opportunity to exchange different growing ideas

For Elaine it’s the individual success stories of member businesses, who are flourishing despite the economic climate, that best illustrates the impact of a collaborative approach through producer organisation. “Over the past ten years we’ve supported investment of over £3 million on our member farms which makes a huge difference to those businesses, from introducing biomass boilers to automating watering and improving on farm refrigeration.  We’ve brought in experts to advise on growing, picking, disease control, energy and yield optimisation, and our growers are now supplying leading supermarkets all over the UK.

“A producer organisation can organise and co-ordinate a whole host of support and advice which would largely inaccessible to an individual business.  I’d be delighted to see more Irish growing sectors adopt this producer organisation model, to create a more stable and more secure Irish horticultural industry.”

Fruit or vegetable growers who want to find out more about the benefits of producer organisations should visit Northway Mushrooms at Horticulture NI at CAFRE, Greenmount College, Wednesday 19th September from 11am – 9.00pm.