herald

Saturday 23 August 2014

Meet the oil barons of Meath

John left and Jack Rogers with their Newgrange Gold premium Irish seed oils. Photo: Ray Cullen

FORMER Attorney General John Rogers and his son Jack are pursuing an enterprise in liquid gold – and it's made from seeds.

John was appointed Attorney General in 1984 by the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition aged just 34.

One of the State's most eminent barristers, he is handling many high-profile cases, including Sean Gallagher's against RTE over its handling of Tweetgate on the Frontline programme.

John said his first "obsession" is the law but he and his son, along with two employees, now find great satisfaction in working the land.

The Rogers family moved to Slane in 1992 in search of tranquillity and the possibility of a farming business.

Now they are developing their Newbridge Gold into a range of oils for the kitchen, developed from rape and camelina seed.

Their exploration of the 'oil industry' is drawing inevitable comparisons in the locality.

"The going joke around Meath is that we are two JRs," Jack said. "We are just missing the stetsons."

Their farmhouse at Crewbane overlooks the Boyne Valley, with the ancient burial tomb at Knowth and Newgrange located nearby.

The Rogers have high hopes for this new nutritional product which is drawing comparisons with the expensive cult product, udos oil.

However, John says it was a tricky transition from the legal profession to farming, manufacturing and, ultimately, food production.

"We had a very big suckler herd and when we reduced the size of that, we put a lot of the grant into tillage," he explained.

"I then had this experience of looking at trailer-loads of stuff going out the gate in September, wondering where it was going and what was going to be done with it.

"This happened at the same time as Ireland was getting a little weak at our knees.

"I decided that I had to do something with the rape seed that I had.

"In the autumn of 2011 we started pressing rape at the beginning of 2012," he added. "That was a huge steep learning curve."

 

Barrister

Jack studied agricultural science in UCD, but was soon following his father into the law. But he said that the food business was a "natural progression" for him. "I did a law diploma in King's Inns, became a barrister and devilled in law for about two years," he said.

"I could have spent my time in the Law Library, sitting, waiting, drinking coffee.

"This has been far too exciting – every day there is a high, there is a low. There is something really beneficial in seeing something that you have created."

Jack became involved in a big way with developing the family business in September 2012.

The father and son duo are aiming to become a premium brand Irish seed grower and oil manufacturer and signed up with Taste Of Dublin this year.

John said he has been surprised at his son's turnaround in career.

"In July last year, Jack seemed to be set on a course, heading in one direction – it looked like he was going to be in the law," he said.

"That sort of willingness to change course, that is important."

John bought the farm because he has a "long-standing connection" with Meath. Although born in Dun Laoghaire, he was reared in Navan and says their genes come from North Meath. The family have increased the size of the farm due to an anticipated demand for the produce.

"I have 70 acres more under seed this year than I have last year," John said. "The reason that has happened is because we are afraid of a situation of not having enough.

"You learn an awful lot about a tillage farmers anxieties growing crops like this."

He finds working the land relaxing after long days in the High Court. "I'm a full-time lawyer, I do all my farming at the weekend, but I spend an awful lot of time at the weekend," he said.

"I couldn't do what I do without the help I get.

"(The law) is my first obsession. I spend an awful lot of time reading. You really do have to be engaged to do other people's work, living other people's lives for them to get through their difficulties," he added. "The feature of the legal system is that people engage you to solve their problems. You really do need to be available.

"There is no doubt it is a very definite switch off from the kind of work that I do during the day."

Jack has wholeheartedly thrown his weight behind the development of the product, which he says has significant nutritional benefits.

 

Special

"Camilina seeds come from quite an ancient plant which has been found in Europe since the Bronze Age," he said. "It went out of vogue in the 40s when rapeseed was introduced as a crop because it was much more easier to grow.

"It has an awful amount of Omega 3 in it – 36g per 100ml and your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin E. But it is quite a special oil.

"It has similar properties to udos oil but it is grown in Ireland and it is not nearly as expensive."

The oils will are currently on sale in specialist shops, Dunnes, SuperValu and are due to go into Tesco from June 1.

And they are eyeing up even bigger expansion plans.

"I made one decision in principle and I think I'm going to have to live with that," John said.

"I decided I wanted it on every shelf – not just the health food shops.

"I became quite aware of the quality of what we had on our hands and realised that I could turn it into a sort of luxury health product.

"Everyone in this country needs to be willing to adapt and diversify – do things that they were not willing to do before."

clairemurphy@herald.ie

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