An ideal climate with a product in great demand

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These animals never kick and no dangerous machinery is required to raise them. Their carbon footprint is tiny and their meat is high in protein and low in fat.

The state’s small group of around 30 snail farmers believe their industry is the answer to many problems, but they say they’re not getting the support they need to grow it.

Escargot Ireland, an umbrella group representing 25 snail farms, says supporting the sector is “a given”. The climate is ideal and the foreign demand for snails cannot be satisfied.

“We have everything it takes to be successful except research and government help,” said Escargot Ireland president Deirdre O’Connor.

The reason we are targeting this market is because it is a small market and they pay a higher price for higher quality Irish products.

She moved Skellig Escargot to the family breastfeeding farm in Cahersiveen during Covid lockdown when she had to give up her job at a local store to care for her four young children.

“We had heard so much about climate change and global warming and we wanted to do our best to diversify,” she says.

She bought 4,000 farmed snails and converted a quarter acre for snail farming. But there is no manual for running a snail farm in Ireland and due to the niche nature of the business new entrants have to find their own way.

“Unfortunately, this has been an ongoing battle,” she said. “We hit brick walls all the way. “

Eva Milka and Eoin Jenkinson from Gaelic Escargot, the snail farm and business they run in Co Carlow, in 2018. Photography: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

‘Trial and error’

Eva Milka has been hitting similar brick walls since she started snail farming in Carlow nine years ago. But she persevered with the Gaelic snail, and it is now her livelihood.

“The first three seasons for us, they were awful,” she says. “I mean, we were trying to adopt a farming method already existing in other European countries, but we were failing overwhelmingly because the weather in Ireland is so different. So, through trial and error, we had to develop a method suitable for Irish weather conditions. But our methods are still not perfect.

One of its biggest obstacles is the fact that its agricultural cycle lasts 10 months. “So we have to wait for the results to see what works and what doesn’t, and we have to come up with an idea on how to improve it, and then we have to wait another 10 months to see the results.”

To do it ourselves we have to know how, and this is what we are still fighting against

It is clearly working now as it produces five tonnes of snails per year and has signed an agreement with Singapore to export its entire harvest this year.

“The reason we are targeting this market is because it is a small market and they pay a higher price for higher quality Irish products. And we are too small to target all other markets. The shortage of snails in the market is simply incredible.

She has no problem shipping the product due to the quantities involved, but Escargot Ireland says it makes no economic sense for small snail farmers to ship their small quantities. According to Deirdre O’Connor, the way snails are graded means they cannot be shipped with shellfish due to the risk of cross contamination.

“Yet France categorizes them together and snails can be exported alongside seafood. It doesn’t make sense,” she says. “If the classification was changed, not only would we be able to ship shellfish products, but we could also consider processing snails in the same facilities as other species of shellfish and molluscs, as the processing methods for both are very. similar. “

Currently, the snails are sent to Greece for processing. “If we’re trying to reduce our carbon footprint in Irish agriculture, shipping to Greece for processing makes absolutely no sense,” she says.

Coaching

Milka would like Teagasc to use agricultural students to research the area and is happy to let them use her farm as a research center. “We need a training manual for people who are interested in snail farming. People think that raising snails is throwing them in the fields and they take care of themselves.

She says global warming has given Irish snail farmers an unexpected boost, as warmer nights mean snails eat more and grow faster. “But global warming is causing massive damage to snail farming in Spain and Italy for example, due to the massive heat waves they are undergoing. So I see a huge opportunity to develop this industry in Ireland.

“But in order to do it ourselves, we have to know how, and that’s what we’re always fighting against.”

Escargot Ireland says its members have spent between 5,000 and 20,000 € to set up their farms and fear losing everything if they do not receive support. “We’re doing our best, but we can’t do it alone,” says Deirdre O’Connor.

Asked about his support for the sector, a spokesperson for the Agriculture Ministry said farmers interested in diversifying into snail farming should contact their local Teagasc office for advice.

A spokesperson for Teagasc said the agency had no research plans for snail production at the moment, but had worked with some snail growers as part of the Food Works program and d ‘a rewards program for new entrants. Stephen Ryan from Tuam, Co Galway won the 2019 Irish Newbie Award for his exclusive snail farming business.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Bord Bia said she plans to update her research on the snail market in the coming months.

No waste

From shell to slime, every part of a snail has a use. “The meat is mainly used for human consumption, but also to feed reptiles,” says Milka.

“Snail eggs are used to produce snail caviar, which is one of the most expensive foods in the world. And then snail slime is used by pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries because of its many properties. Don’t forget the snail shell – pure calcium – and it can also be used as a fertilizer. There is therefore no waste.

There is no system in place yet to certify organic snail farms, but she says it is a completely organic process.

“There’s no need to use chemicals, no fertilizer, no antibiotics, no vaccines, nothing like that. And then there is no need for heavy machinery either. I think it’s a perfect business for a farmer.

Deirdre O’Connor also believes it would be an ideal business for a farmer who is thinking about retiring but fears having nothing to do. “It would be perfect for the mental health of an elderly person who is no longer able to meet the demands of farming.”

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