The Sunday News
IN recent weeks, the South African native was one of 270 who attended the Irish Snail Farmer’s Conference in Tullamore, where he met with many people who are interested in setting up their own farm. Along with continuing to sell snails wholesale, he will help these people to establish their own farms in a bid to address the current shortage of snails in Europe.
“In Europe, there is a 100 000 tonne shortage of snails per year and we need more people to start farming in order to address this,” he said. “The market for snails is currently growing by 4,5 per cent per year.”
“We really don’t have enough snails to meet the demands. There is a dire shortage; It isn’t a joke or a gimmick to encourage people to get involved.’
Stephan set up his farm Marphan Escargot in Ballymurn in January of this year and has already sold off all of this year’s batch of his Helix Aspersa Muller (Petit Gris) snails, to restaurants, at festivals and to snail farmers who wish to breed the creatures.
Prior to this, he lived a city-slicker life in Dublin, where he worked in various hotels around the city. The switch to rural snail farming from his stints in the hospitality industry may seem like a bizarre career change to many but for Stephan, it brought him back to his roots. Before moving to Ireland, he spent many years in his homeland farming snails with his grandfather.
After several years of living in Dublin, he decided to pursue his interest.
“I came to Ireland a few years ago and studied business management. But after a while, Dublin was driving me nuts. I really wanted to get back into working in agriculture and snail farming is the easiest way to get into it as it doesn’t require a lot of land or money,’ explained Stephan, who hails from Nelspruit. ‘I set up in Wexford because it is the sunny south east! It also has good soil and more dry days than the rest of the country.’
The high unemployment rate in Wexford also acted as a draw for Stephan when it came to choosing his farm location.
“Unemployment here is higher than almost anywhere else in the country. I thought that if I set up here, there would be a pool of people who could come and work with me. At the moment, I have some people coming to help me on a part-time basis.”
After a successful first year, Stephan is now setting his sights on year two. The snail breeding season runs from December until March or April. The snails are then put into the field for a period of time, before they are picked and sold off.
“When they are in the field, you need to go in for a few hours a day and look through the vegetation to see if there are any dead snails. If there are, we must do a kind of post-mortem in which we figure out why they died and determine how to fix the problem,” explained Stephan. “I undertook the one year snail farming course with the National Organic Training Skillnets and learned a lot about how to solve these problems.”
Stephan passes some of these skills on to budding snail farmers and said that he has advised people in Kilmore, Monamolin, Ferns, Ballycanew and New Ross who are serious about setting up their own farm. Providing this free advice is part of his business plan, according to Stephan, who said it will all help to address the global shortage. — Online