Farmers in Meath are working together to grow crops on land where nothing grew before.

A piece of bogland in County Meath is no longer being used as a source of fuel and is being cultivated for growing vegetables.

Growing vegetables on the former peat land is providing a source of income for small farmers.

In 1970, over £11,000 worth of vegetables were produced on a 56 acre stretch of cutaway bog at Coolronan on the edge of the Bog of Allen in Meath.

What's happening here is unique.

The land lay uncultivated for hundreds of years and now it is cutaway bog, meaning that peat harvesting has been discontinued. Parsnips, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, French beans, and potatoes are now being produced on land that up to last year produced nothing at all.

Tommy Kelly explains how the group was formed. The initiative began when farmers in the area came together in an effort to make their land more productive. The group discovered that the best way to increase the incomes of small farmers in the area was to produce vegetables on land that was previously used for peat. By working together, the group could save money on machinery. Money was borrowed from the Agricultural Credit Corporation (ACC) to get set up.

Bill Rennick was the instructor at the winter class where the group was formed. He set out to help the farmers improve their livelihoods through cooperation. Having purchased the necessary machinery, the farmers cultivated around 40 acres in the first year selling about £5,000 worth of produce. This year, revenue has grown to over £11,000.

While the group has been working well together to date, there is now a need to establish some legal structure to the enterprise. Although they have worked well together, not without facing certain challenges, the growers are sceptical about forming a cooperative. The immediate challenge is that some of the land now needs to be rested which means smaller yields next year. Other challenges facing the group include land ownership and the threat of flooding from the local Coolronan River.

Professor Clarke from University College  Dublin (UCD) is supportive of the use of this type of land for horticultural purposes and points to international examples of where similar land has been used productively.  He believes that the land is some of the most valuable land in the country.

It’s suitable for a whole range of crops.

The question now for the Coolronan growers is where do they go from here and how?

This episode of 'On The Land’ was broadcast on 5 January 1971. The reporter is Larry Sheedy.