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Handing on 

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Design By Nature. Monavea Cross, Crettyard, Co Laois, Via Carlow, Ireland

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A totally new horticulture industry based on ‘high value’ botanical plant parts and chemical compounds grown and processed in Ireland for the medical, pharma, food and body-care sector.

A €0.9 Billion gap/share of an EU 12.5 billion market exists where we could organise 5000 farm families or circa 15,000 people to diversify into ‘on farm’ specialist medicinal and botanical horticulture crops and processing units.

Ireland would invest in the commercial growing and production of plants where we have a distinct climate and soil based competitive advantage for the ‘The Medicinal and ‘Botanical’s’ Industry’. The global industry is estimated at > €100 billion.

Unlike less well developed countries, Ireland could apply very high tech solutions to propagation, growing, harvesting, cropping and production as well as quality control and traceability.

The Irish total turnover for specialist horticulture is currently worth about 1 billion

At present less than 15,000 people generate €600 million in non food horticulture and soft landscaping, (€40,000 per employee) (not incl’ DIY and Hard landscaping) and in food from specialist non agricultural horticulture €361 million is generated from about 7800 employers, employees and sub contractors = (€46, 282 each person)

I would suggest my figures of €900 million (€60,000) would be about right as a first estimate as to the scale of the higher value Botanical Industry, where each employee would generate about 150% more income than of traditional products due to final processing of the crop and the higher value that the end product receives.

Figures for Daffodil and Myrtle flower production for medical crops in Ireland will bare this out, however the produce is only sold unprocessed.

Centers of Expertise.

We would start small and fast and grow rapidly using the National Botanic Gardens, Trinity Gardens and UCD agri and landscape faculty to research crops and co-ordinate research.

Then using existing charitable horticulture units such as ‘Rehab’ and school gardens, community groups and tidy town groups to bulk up and re- produce the raw propagation materials to establish an new industry in Teagesc who are already aware of the industry and assisted my business to carry out field trials could be ready to disseminate crop materials and information to farmers within 12 months.

The Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia and the Universities would all redirect resources to the project on quality, research marketing and finance to education..

As the creamery sector is under pressure with closures of small local creameries, these could be leased cheaply or freely to act as regional centers.

All have massive barn and storage facilities and generally good ‘lock up’ for machinery (shared). Existing flower and vegetable growers could be used as teachers and to assist in the initial production. If the Farmers Journal and RTE and local broadcasters and newspapers, were to get involved, we could launch a series of education tours and broadcasts to quickly get the country growing these crops

The unemployed, esp’ construction workers could be offered contracts to construct the production facilities and help in the fields, in exchange for basic payment and short term share options.

Investment would come direct from the public via share options in the business and from the banks. It is envisaged that Co-op’s would be created to channel investment and produce and equalise risk and resources. All farmers owners would also offer allotment and other farm produce as incentives to offset wages.

I have successfully converted an old barn into a modern Botanical processing facility at relatively little cost. My business model could be used throughout Ireland for the less developed poorer farm units, usually on marginal land and isolated, many of which are going to disappear in the next 20 years. I suggest we repeat my experience on a national scale and get 15,000 people into botanical production with an average wage of €26,000 plus some additional profits for re-investing. 

These farmers would be primarily engaged in growing, maintaining and processing raw plant materials and then small scale manufacturing of un-compounded chemicals and their derivatives (i.e., generally for use by pharmaceutical preparation manufacturers) and/or grading, grinding, and milling un-compounded botanicals

At present, Ireland produces little or no crops for further processing into ‘Botanicals’ ie for compounds’ uses in food, flavourings, drugs, medicines, cosmetics and many more primary products.

There already exists a market for these plant derivatives and there are producers of finished product in Ireland.

Whilst we do not have the best climate for ripening seeds and nuts we do have an excellent climate for producing roots, leaves, petals, berries and certain seeds esp’ from native plants.

The focus would be on crops which we could exploit due to our climatic position or on soil based requirements.

At least 150,000 could be invested via Tax write off against the unemployed, a generous inward Gov investment. Given the new industry, a further 300, million would be saved by the growers, against new business startup schemes, from not paying tax, giving 450 million to start up or €30,000 to every farm for capital items within the first 3 years.

Match this with county enterprise funding for non horticulture processing and Bord Bia grant aid for marketing as well as private, bank and additional public finances, we could raise over 1 billion.

The Department of agriculture also has funs for crop production and the EU has other funds to tap into.

Botanicals – herbal medicines and plant materials for many uses have been used by mankind since prehistory. Most consumers today used products that are from 35% to 75% derived from plants, from shampoos to detergents, from medicines to body care products.

One quarter of all prescription drugs contain direct plant derivatives. 75% of all drugs are modelled on plant or animals.

The use of plants to help maintain health and well-being are widespread, yet many people are not aware of it.

Often the active ingredient is listed on a product and not the plant it came from.

In sustainable agriculture plant botanicals are also playing a larger role.

Plant production methods today are scientific and highly sophisticated, The constituents in plants have become better understood by the various end-user industries. ‘Botanicals’ no longer need to be fresh picked before being brewed into preparations.

State of the art processing methods use harvests to purify out, or concentrate the plant constituent properties.

Active ingredients from natural plants start as crude bulk materials, crude Botanicals from vegetative are "natural substances that have undergone only the processes of collection and drying."

Natural substances are those "found in nature… that have not had changes made in their molecular structure and can either be raised commercially or collected in the wild.

It will really work if we grow native or best suited plant species:

Any Irish research in the past has focused on non native cultivars of species from other countries such as Chamomile or camomile where a market already existed.

It will really work if we grow native or best suited plant species:

The best plant species to grow are ones that Ireland would have a competitive climatic or soil based advantage. There would be no point in growing lavender, basil or ginseng, but instead proven species which grow well here such as Meadowsweet, Ash tree, Beetroot, Bluebell, Myrtle, Blackberry, Raspberry leaf and species of grasses.

Plant based food supplements, medicines, body creams, vitamins, tonics, teas, drinks, sprays, elixirs and extracts prepared from plants are part of European cultural heritage and are in legislation.

Dosages such as creams, pastilles, tablets, and pills provide a convenient way of delivering the botanical of choice.

For the consumer, quality processing guarantees the absence of any potentially harmful substances and increases the stability of the end product.

Some of Europe’s largest processors are already present in Ireland. We can contact these buyers and share the research to exactly what they want in accordance to what can be grown.

Mint was once commercially wild harvested on the banks of the river Shannon, as USA crops grew it became un-commercial, today large crops of Mint gown world wide suffer from a rust virus, making small scale production viable again.

Research currently being carried out in Irish Universities and available to Irish Universities is paving the way for a whole new generation of crops from new plant species. It can work if we bring all this information together and match it to our very limited native plants of which there are only 851, flowers grasses, trees and shrubs.

Of lichens and mosses, seaweed and fungi the list gets bigger and is less known, but still relevant.

It is working now:

Traceability is a major issue in international trade of natural ingredients. As a result, EU manufacturers increasingly seek direct contact with their producers. Developing country producers could benefit from this, as they are already dominating EU imports of natural ingredients for the pharmaceutical sector.

As Ireland is a word leader in food trace’ability we could transfer this technology into biopharmaceuticals and Botanical produce

Global concerns especially with harvesting wild plants are arising, as this is a diminishing resource. World-wide the demand is out stripping supply and these wild plants are becoming extinct, also of importance is the correct species identification before collection. There arises a new need for more commercial plant crops. Asian markets are creating a further demand that cannot be satisfied for all species.

Once a crude plant material has been grown, harvested and collected and the needed portions separated and cleaned, it must be stored or immediately processed according to how quickly the active ingredient might spoil or lose potency.

With plants, the active ingredient for the final product must be extracted from various parts, such leaves, petals, roots or seeds, the process involves sorting, drying, grinding and or chipping, all of which are small scale farm enterprises. Production facilities include hammer and teeth mills designed to reduce leaves, stems, seeds, or roots to evenly sized granules.

Some products, like basic herbal remedies, can be packaged at this point for sale (nettle tea) or combined into other preparations.

For most the powdered plant must be processed in a series of solvent baths (a process called maceration) in ether /alcohols, or the plant goes through a series of distillation processes (for volatile oils) that separate the desired ingredient from the crude material. Centrifugation is also used.

Another process is ‘antibiotic moulding’, mould grown in large fermentation tanks. The moulds release their medicinal yield while fermenting.

The plant mould, is then submitted to "precipitation," which involves the application of either heat or freezing cold or the addition of salts or other compounds to separate the active ingredient. The chemical composition of these products must match a parent batch to ensure purity and strength and must meet with the approval of the buyer and regulatory authority.

Whilst China, India and many third world countries have a distinct labour / cost advantage over Ireland, they have poor quality control, bad consistency of supply and little capital. While we would not be growing the same species of plant, we could use technology and science to modernise production and processing for plants that do well here. The main cost in set up is land access, housing (barn), crop planting and field preparation. Shared resources in milling, processing and production could be carried out at the many failing creameries throughout Ireland.

Ireland has these in place and could excel in these areas providing much needed rural employment. Regional co-op’s will be required for batch production and resource sharing, but as we have a history in that side of the market, forming producer co-op’s will not be new.

Once Holland fed the world producing much of Europe’s food and horticulture through cheap government subsidised gas to heat green houses.

Soon Ireland will have much free Energy from the wind and wave farms, some of this could be subsidised and help Ireland grow greenhouse/tunnel crops for far less.

A ‘by the way’ reason to keep a thriving horticulture industry in Ireland.

Buyers that desire a regular supply of high-quality materials will often inspect manufacturing plants before assigning a production contract for active ingredients. Our Department of Agriculture is a world leader in regulation and skills could be brought to bear to insure quality

The regulator, ie our Department is responsible for ensuring that every step in the process of pharmaceutical raw material production must meet specific production internationalised standards.

Although many drug companies have vertically integrated production lines, a trend grew from 2000 onward to favour outsourcing of active ingredients to smaller companies, as constant supply and traceability and purity are now becoming the key supply issue.


Production of similar type of goods to Botanicals ie. fruit and vegetables is a significant entity within the overall agricultural industry, making an important economic contribution in terms of supplying the domestic market, employment and foreign trade. The horticulture and potato sectors contributed approx €361m to farm output in 2008. This figure includes non-food horticultural crops.

However food processing is not included in these figures, as they are farm gate.

There is one fundamental difference in the way Botanical production matches up against farm gate production: often farm gate produce is only processed to point of collection as a raw material, Potatoes are sold ‘farm gate’ as whole spuds not pre frozen chips or processed into vegetable starch which is accounted for in figures downstream of farm gate in the food industry output. Whilst Botanicals are also raw materials the real value is in the primary processing to extract the compounds or prepare for extraction.

Therefore the following figures are not really comparable,

Horticultural Crops in Ireland - 2008

Product €

Mushrooms 102.7

Potatoes 74.4

Protected Crops (food and non-food) 71.8

Field vegetables 58.8

Fruit crops 6.2

Hardy nursery crops, Christmas trees, honey 43.7

Bulbs, outdoor flowers, foliage 3.4

Total 361.1

Numbers of Crop producers/families 2008

Mushrooms 85

Field vegetables 190

Protected crops (Fruit & Vegetable) 126

Fruit crops (Outdoor) 72

361,000,000 x 7800 employers and sub contractors = 46, 282 each person

The government of Ireland figures suggest that 85 mushroom producers turnover 1.2 million each, that is not correct. 1300 producers raised enough turnover for 85 centralised producers / producer groups/ packers to turnover 102.7 million, not including all the straw and manure required and other associated requirements of the industry.

Where as field vegetables is more realistic, showing an average turnover of 305,000 per farm. which is more in line with reality

Botanical farm gate turnover €500,million

In Botanicals 5,000 farm units would turnover on average 100,000 worth of farm gate materials

Processed materials turnover €400 billion.

When processed co-operatively this figure would rise to about 400,000 turnover generated by each family unit or 15000 industry employees

900 Million industry

That is a combined total of €900 million (€60,000) where each employee would generate about 150% more income than of traditional products due to final processing of the crop and the higher value that the end product receives.


The land area of Ireland is 6.9 million hectares, of which 4.4 million hectares is used for agriculture or about 64% of total land area and 650,000 hectares for forestry or about 9.4% of total land.

80% of agricultural area is devoted to grass (silage, hay and pasture), 11% to rough grazing and 9% to crop production.

In common with trends in all EU member states, farm numbers in Ireland declined continuously over recent decades. The average annual decline during the past 10 years was 1.7%. This compares with an annual decline of almost 3% in other EU states. However the decline in the number of small Irish farms has been more rapid – over 5% per annum for farms less than 5 hectares. The number of larger farms increased slightly resulting in average farm size increasing from 27 hectares to almost 30 hectares during the past decade.

There is a real need to protect small farm incomes for a multiple number of reasons. A gap exists.

Industry Organisation and Structure

In Micro, ‘Down on the farm’.

The average farm size in Ireland is between 45 and 30 hectares with almost 50% of farms less than 20 hectares. Much of the farmland in question is unsuitable for purpose and is being abandoned or under used.

However, Botanicals can offer a real alternative.

Tree crops;

Wide spaced tree crops for specialist saps, bud and seeds can occupy marginal land and wet soil, without destroying the farms agricultural potential, indeed Botanical crops can have polycultural benefits of adding shelter, browse and fuel yields. See Permaculture

Good Arable farmland

Existing crop rotations have been interfered with since the loss of sugar beet, as it was often used to break the grain rotation, thus renewing ground. Botanicals can be used to break the rotation and introduce new crops which rest the soil or other more demanding grain crops


Boggy soil can produce the worlds most sought after species, Myrtle, Meadowsweet and Mint. Bord na Mona wide wheel technologies can allow harvesting in boggy ground. Many new crops are being tried on wetlands and peat bogs or cut-a-ways. However these will need to also fit into rotations as above, again botanicals offer a solution.


While research and studies near really started and then moved away from Polycultures of plant and animal species in Ireland. This those not mean they have no place.

Polycultures of two or more species working together are common through global agriculture, so limited is research in Ireland, that it took 50 years for clover and grass swards to become popular again due to environmental crisis of high nitrogen and high fuel costs.

Polycultures are the sign of highly skilled farmers and horticulturists, where they occure, two or more crops (often trees) can be taken from the one piece of ground. Botanical production perfectly fits the bill for polycultural production. It’s SMART Horticulture.

Existing machinery and skills.

As the Irish sugar beet industry has disappeared, there are redundant skills and machinery which in part can be employed for Botanicals, especially since many crops are ‘ridge grown’ as with sugar beet.

Arable farming is localised but widespread, more especially in the south, south east of the country where the climate and soils are favourable to many species.

However botanicals have very different soil and husbandry requirements so the entire country may be involved. Tractors, ploughs, tillers harrows, swart cutters and combine harvesters can all be employed as is or with some modification. New machinery will be required but the skills are here to design, build or get it made overseas.
The real drawback to the industry is the farmer who is geared towards agricultural production, therefore education, social attitude changes and up-skilling will be vital.


An important consideration in measuring the statistical results of high value horticulture is that the units are often so small, that they are not included in statistical data collections as statistics can often only refer to the number of persons employed in manufacturing industries and their turnover with three or more persons engaged or areas of land greater than 1 h.a or more (2.5) h.a of land

The sampling method can distort the figures as one horticulture family business of two employees in the South had a turnover of >€140,000 from less than 1 H.a of land owned by the family and less than 3 H.a of leased/rented land. Another in the Southwest again with less than the required 1 h.a of land for statistical sampling had a turnover of >500,000 in 2006 from full time collecting specialist tree plant parts.

Another, with two employees has a turnover of >€500,000 from wild harvested scented plant materials, owning no land, yet doing all the final processing themselves and selling online only.

In Munster more families collect wild harvested foliage and the final exported figure is all that may be accounted for, which only includes the employees working for the exporter and not the many collectors involved.

In small scale family high value horticulture, These family's yields often out perform all others, by significant margins of ,000%, yet is not included in the central statistics data. Another family micro business in the Southeast had similar high turnover figures from one part time employee, who collects very high value wild honey used for specialist medicines again these figures would have been missed.

Also wild harvested plant materials for cut foliage, tree and flower seeds, fungi, wild food and nuts and all other small scale business are often not included in the figures. My own seed business established in 1990 was not included in any state statistical figures until 2006 thus distorting the real size and scale of the industry until 2006.

Goods output at producer prices

Other fresh vegetables 93,700

Fresh fruit 33,200

Other crops 62,800

Wild harvested plants 6,008,000


Hectares - Type of Land Use, 2008

Vegetables for sale 4.0

Fruit 1.4

Nursery stock, bulbs and flowers 1.3

Other crops 16.4

Total crops, fruit and horticulture 418.9

Hectares - Type of Land Use, 2009

Vegetables for sale 42000

Fruit 16000

Nurseries, horticulture etc. 15000

Other crops 19800

Total crops, fruit and horticulture 92,800 Hectares



The industry would be vulnerable in a number of areas

  • Lack of know-how in start up, expertise will be required from abroad

  • Labour intensive

  • Micro Capital intensive

  • Vulnerable to weather conditions – even under protection

  • Vulnerable to specific diseases

Climate change could have both a positive and negative effects on the horticultural sector.

The industry is a significant user of energy and any increase in the cost of energy or water may adversely affect the sector.

On the positive side, as other countries suffer the more severe effects of climate change new crop and growing opportunities will open up, indeed crops may fail altogether elsewhere giving us a unique competitive advantage

Irish agriculture is primarily a grass-based industry. Horticulture concentrates on traditional species and lacks real leadership in gaining market share or encouraging an attractive lifestyle based on the business. When did you last see an agriculture or hort’ business in the top 50 places to work in Ireland


Non-food horticultural crops include hardy nursery stock (trees and shrubs), Christmas trees, turf grass, ornamental pot plants, flowers, bulbs and foliage. There are approximately 220 businesses involved in the production of non-food crops. Most of their production is consumed at home, but there are some exports of hardy nursery stock, flowers, bulbs and foliage, and Christmas trees. There is potential to increase sales of home produced crops, and possibly to increase exports. This could be achieved by improved supply chain arrangements and by a coherent marketing strategy, which differentiates the product. A strong Botanicals industry would support elements of this existing industry by employing existing skills and expanding markets.

Non-food crops are not covered by the CAP and so cannot participate certain Incentive Schemes for horticulture. Nevertheless the industry would benefit from adopting an approach aimed at improving marketing and planning production to identify new demand.

The industry also needs to adapt its production methods to minimise the effects on the environment. From a fresh start the entire Botanical industry would benefit the existing small horticulture industry

2009, Similar crops to Botanical production ie. Specialist agri’ and hort’ crops in the Republic of Ireland

Figures adapted from : http://www.cso.ie/releasespublications/documents/agriculture/current/croplsfinal.pdf

In the Republic of Ireland, ‘other crops’ includes nursery plants, bulbs, tubers, ornamental plants, cut flowers, Christmas trees (excluding loppings), perennial plants, grass seed, products from the wild, plant by-products, other vegetable products, oilseed rape, flax, hop cones and pulses.

Area under crops hectares

Beans and peas 3.600

Oilseed rape 6.500

Arable silage 25.400

Maize silage 20.900

Fodder rape and kale 2.600

Potatoes 12.900

Turnips 1.500

Beet 8.300

Vegetables for sale 4.200

Fruit 1.600

Nurseries, horticulture etc. 1.500

Other crops 19.800

= 108,800 Ha.

Area under crops hectares



Sandro's Famous Wildflower Seeds 

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