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Organic Farming Apprenticeship Scheme

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Organic Farming Apprenticeship Scheme

Monday, February 16, 2015 

Organic Farming Apprenticeship Scheme

"An organic farming apprenticeship opened just last week" writes Mary Phelan in the Irish Farmers Journal:

The Organic Growers of Ireland, a representative body set up approximately six years ago by growers for growers, launched their apprenticeship programme for 2015 just last week.

It was drafted as a response to the lack of practical, hands-on training available in the sector. The aim of the programme is to provide a high standard of practical skills and knowledge to those interested in working in organic farming, through learning from growers who are already well established.

It aims to help bridge the gap between students who have completed horticultural courses or have some practical work experience, and give them the confidence to start up their own horticultural enterprise or take on the management of an existing horticultural business.

Closing date for applications is Sunday1st March.

Apprentices go on work placement for a minimum of 30 hours a week, over a six-month period, on an organic horticultural host farm. The host farm must provide the opportunity to work in as many different areas of production as possible, as well as explaining business planning, budgeting, marketing and long-term planning of the business.

The participants are employed by the individual farms directly and will be supported by a formal training programme, which complements what the apprentices are learning through their practical training on a day-to-day basis.

The training programme is run by the Organic Growers of Ireland and is being funded by the Department of Agriculture. The formal training aspect of the course involves six full-day workshops, which will be given by outside experts on set subjects.

The workshops cover the technical knowledge and economic management required for good crop production, as well as sales and marketing options and strategies. Farm walks will also be held on the farms.

The programme will also involve 25 hours of course work in addition to the workshops and farm walks. It will focus on organic principles, standards and certification. It is hoped that some of the 25 hours can be completed through distance learning.

There are at least eight places available across eight farms.

Candidates will either have completed a Level 5 FETAC qualification in horticulture or have a minimum of one year work experience on a horticulture farm.

A certificate of completion for the internship programme will be issued from the Organic Growers of Ireland on successfully completing the apprenticeship.


The rate of pay normally applicable to this type of scheme has been determined by the National Minimum Wage Act. The programme is a minimum of six months, but some farms are taking on apprentices for a longer duration.

For six months, the pay is €6.49/hour for the first two months, €6.92/hour for the second two months and €7.79/hour for the last two months.

The programme is open to people with a horticultural qualification or those with at least one years' work experience on a farm -  Full details, terms and conditions and application forms are available on the OGI website here 

Closing date for applications is Sunday, 1 March.

Profile: Catherine Hayes, Gort, Co Galway

Catherine Hayes was one of the participants on the organic farming apprenticeship programme last year. She grew up on a dairy farm, completed a PhD at NUI Galway in biological chemistry and worked in glycobiology until 2013. However, in recent years she’s had organic farming on her mind.

“I’ve had an interest in organic farming for the last few years because I love food and travelling. I feel Ireland is seen as a place with good food,” says Catherine.

This is something that was particularly evident to her when she lived in Sweden for several years, working as a researcher. She saw the esteem with which Irish beef and salmon were held in on the shelves of Swedish supermarkets. She says it was marketed not quite as a luxury product, but one of very high quality and the supermarkets were keen to stress that it was Irish. Catherine didn’t want to stay in Sweden long-term and so came home in 2013. A job she was coming home to fell through, which she says was the “best thing that ever happened to [her]”, because it gave her time to pursue her organic farming dream. Her dad allowed her to put up some polytunnels and plant cabbage and carrots on half an acre around the house. She then decided to complete the Teagasc-run FETAC Level 5 Organics Standards and Principles course at Teagasc Athenry. It ran for one day a week over four weeks.

“I just did it to see. I knew nothing about how you even go about starting organic farming.” One day she saw a sign in Ballinasloe for Beechlawn Organic Farm, owned by Padraig Fahy and Úna Ní Bhroin. Catherine met Úna’s brother in Sweden, so she popped in for a visit. It was the week before the deadline for the apprenticeship and Beechlawn Organic Farm was one of the host farms. Úna encouraged Catherine to apply.

So how did Catherine find the course?

“It was brilliant. I enjoyed every minute of it. It was really hard work. There’s no doubt about it that it’s a very physical job. I can’t even describe how much I’ve learned. Working on a busy, successful organic farm, there’s nothing like it. You learn more from dealing with problems than if everything goes well.”

The internship finished in November, but Beechlawn kept Catherine on. She now works there four days a week and has Wednesdays off to run her own organic farm. She hopes to work full-time on it in the near future. “It’s scary, but brilliant at the same time,” she laughs.

Catherine plans to grow carrots, cabbage, broccoli, leeks, onions, beetroot, tomatoes, cucumber and salad leaves in polytunnels. “I’m aiming for a box scheme. For a €15 box you’d need seven to10 varieties. I’m doing a plan at the moment.” She says it’s not a saturated market in her area, having received a good response locally when she grew and sold boxes of vegetables last year.

What’s her advice for people in similar situations?

“Get good rain gear. You’ve to be prepared for hard work. You have to be open to the experience.” One of the biggest things she learned from her experience was not to become “too engrossed in it and spend all your time in a field. My boss is really into trying new things and finding out where to sell his produce. That’s a huge thing I learned. It’s not just about planting stuff”. Catherine says that “if you’re open to it, it’s an amazing experience”. It introduced her to the world of organic farming in Ireland. “It’s an amazing network of people. The group of growers are very open and they are very willing to share.”


The CareersPortal Team