‘If you can figure out very early on, what you enjoy doing – life and business can be a heck of a lot easier.’

Helping international agri manufacturers get their products to farmers. It’s a simple idea and one that Noel Kelly of Creva Agri International is growing. 

Kelly grew up on a pedigree dairy farm (Creva Herd) near Athenry in Co. Galway. He trained in dairy management in the UK and worked in farm software and international sales before returning home in 2010 to combine his twin passions of dairy farming and global agribusiness.

My story

I trained to be a farmer for the first part of my life. I also gained experience working in sales in the mid-90s, selling farm software while also working on the family farm. Then in 1999, I undertook a dairy herd management course in the UK, followed by work experience on farms in England, Canada, and Holland. In 2009, I also graduated from UCD Smurfit School with a Diploma in Sales Management (Honours).  

“Farming is not just a job – it is a significant global business.”

Going to college in England gave me a flavour for international trade. During my studies, I met Bill Knox, the editor of Hoard’s Dairyman, which is the leading dairy magazine in the US and he offered some advice.

He was the first person that said to me: ‘You are all farmer’s sons, but think outside the farm gate. Farming is not just a job – it is a significant global business’. His advice connected with me and got me thinking.

“I was responsible for multimillions in sales, but my farm was losing money.”

It was in 2010 when things were changing, and I always knew I’d like to set up my own business. As much as I love dairying, I always had aspirations for my own international business.

noel kelly creva

We had a very successful dairy farm, with one of the best pedigree herds in the country but sadly, due to one animal we bought, we became entirely depopulated by BSE in 2003. 

We employed a manager to run the dairy farm which enabled me to balance farming at home with an off-farm job, working for seven years in international sales. I was responsible for multimillions in sales, but my farm was losing money, and my job was propping up the farm. In 2010 I returned home on a fulltime basis to get my farm back into profit and to start my own business. 

“I set myself the task of getting my farm back into profit.”

I thought: ‘How could I start my own business and have a successful business – if my family farm is losing money?’ 

So I prioritised and set myself the task of getting my farm back into profit, which I did. I turned it around from losing €60,000 a year to a situation now where it’s quickly making that amount in profit.     

This also afforded me the opportunity to start some international agribusiness consultancy work. 

“I’m lucky enough to have worked and learned with great neighbours, as well as my business partner and friend, Seamus Quigley.”

I am involved in some management and financial decisions, but on a day to day basis I don’t have anything to do with the farm. I’m lucky enough to have worked and learned with great neighbours, as well as my now business partner and friend, Seamus Quigley, who is my current farm manager.

“The products we sell are all to do with calf housing and cow comfort. I took a decision that anything we sell would not require a plug.”

I started to look at factories that I could represent internationally and would fit into the type of company I wanted to build. I then set up the Creva International in 2012, and the products we sell are all to do with calf housing and cow comfort. For example indoor calf pens, calf hutches, or the rubber mats where the cows lie down. 

I took a decision that anything we sell would not ‘require a plug’, as we wouldn’t need to have a whole back up facility. So the products we sell are what I class as “semi capital equipment” – where we are involved with the life of the cow from “cradle to grave” so to speak.  

“I have always used the quote ‘we all talk cow, just don’t talk bull to each other’.”

I don’t have any fear in dealing with anyone internationally. I have always used the quote “we all talk cow, just don’t talk bull to each other”. 

“Let them be the best at making the product; we will be the best at selling it.”

We offer sales and technical support to the world’s best factories and distributors. Creva is a B2B business service, partnering the world’s best dairy facilities, with the best distributors, to ensure that we get the right products to the farmer.

We are contracted to three companies, and we promote their brands internationally: Agri-Plastics in Canada for calf housing; Huber Technick, in Germany that sells a roll solution for cow comfort; and Geyer & Hosaja in Poland that sells a mat solution for cow comfort.

These factories have contracted Creva to build their international sales business, and we have to be the best at that. Let them be the best at making the product; we will be the best at selling it. The factories just want to see the order, and we aim to do everything else.

“I didn’t have to buy €100,000 inventory of stock or product to start.”

We make money on our commissions. At the start in 2012, it was difficult because we had no sales. We had very low commissions. But I was lucky to have my farm as a backup. However, this meant I could also start my business with low-cost. I didn’t have to buy €100,000 inventory of stock or product to start.

noel kelly creva

Our business model, believe it or not, saves cost for the distributor and farmer. If each of the factories had to hire an individual sales office to cover each of these markets, the costs would get very high. And again we only earn money if we sell, so we have to be confident in what we do and sell – and we are.

“I would suggest working with somebody who is in the field that you are interested in, even if you have to do it for free.”

For someone either starting up their business or in college – first of all, figure out what you enjoy doing. What are you passionate about? I would suggest working with somebody who is in the field that you are interested in, even if you have to do it for free. 

You can learn more from them than you ever would in a classroom or working in a job you don’t like. If you can figure out very early on, what you enjoy doing – life and business can be a heck of a lot easier. 

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