Is Organic An Option For Your Farm?

Organic farming is not a system of farming you can switch to overnight.

You must take time and do research as to what changes you must make to become an organic food producer, and complete an organic conversion plan of normally two years.

There is a perception that organic farming is difficult, with a lot of regulation involved and low levels of productivity, but the reality is quite different.

High stocking rates can be achieved, and organic products are capable of obtaining a premium price.

If interested in organic farming, it is important to get as much information as possible.

Talk to someone you know who has converted to organic farming, and discuss their situation and how they found the whole conversion process; how market opportunities were explored; and what schemes and grant aids are available.

If you attend Teagasc/DAFM organic demonstration farm walks, you will learn first-hand about the practicalities of organic farming and be able to meet staff from organic certification bodies, the organic unit of the DAFM and Teagasc.

Organic standards have been developed to provide organic producers with consistent, clear rules as to how organic food should be produced.

Farmers have very little options in terms of where to sell finished organic cattle.

Farmers have very little options in terms of where to sell finished organic cattle.

As I mentioned previously, a two-year conversion period is required before a farm is given organic status.

One of the main challenges for a farmer who applies for organic status is the prohibited use of fertilisers and chemicals (herbicides) on the farm and how productivity can be maximised in their absence.

Lime and rock phosphate are permitted for use, and clover should be included in swards to supply nitrogen.

There are a lot of considerations to be made before a clear picture emerges of your suitability and adaptability to organic farming.

Examples include: Is your current stocking rate below two livestock units per hectare? Can your animal housing be modified to incorporate a bedded lying area? Can you see yourself farming without relying on pesticides and chemical fertilisers, or are you in the GLAS Scheme?

The organic conversion plan provides a detailed description of management practices on the farm, the changes required for the farm, soil analysis, faecal analysis, livestock housing plan and an animal-health plan.

The key is to maintain farm productivity and stocking rate as high as possible.

White clover is the engine that drives productivity on organic farms and can fix in excess of 100kg of N/Ha annually.

Red clover can fix in the region of 200 kg N/Ha annually and can be a high-yielding, high-protein feed for wintering animals.

With regard to animal health, routine treatment of animals with anthelmintics is prohibited, and a rotational grazing system should be in place to minimise worm burden.

If an animal is suffering, it must be treated, and the necessary permission must be sought from the VET.

It is important to note that an in-conversion farmer must comply with all the standards while in-conversion.

There is no lead-in time with regard to housing and feeding.

It is also advisable to buy stock before going into conversion, as it may be difficult to source enough breeding stock once in conversion.

Once you have investigated and familiarised yourself with organic standards, choose an Organic Certification Body (OCB) and get an application pack.

The Organic Certification Body provides an inspection and certification service for all organic production units in Ireland.

Submit an application form and conversion plan to the OCB and, in due course, you will obtain an Organic Licence to become a registered Organic Operator.

You can then apply to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) to join the Organic Farming Scheme, provided you have completed a relevant 25-hour ‘organic farming principles’ course.

If you think organic farming is not for your farm, investigate first; you might be surprised.

One of the primary focuses in calf-rearing at the moment is trying to save on labour.

Speaking recently at an event in Ballygarry House Hotel and Spa, organised by Kellihers Feed and Agri Supplies, Christine Cummins and Tom Warren from Bonanza Calf Nutrition explained that the key to successful calf-rearing is to keep things simple and to nail the basics: “This means taking a very careful look at current practices and facilities and seeing how best to take advantage of what is already there,” they said.

“For some people it means purchasing an automatic feeder, and for some it means converting to once-daily milk feeding”, they added.

Whatever route you take, managing your feeding system is crucial, and to do that effectively, you need to know your feeding system, as each system has its advantages and disadvantages.

Furthermore, it is very important to remember that the system your neighbour is using may not necessarily work for you – it all depends on your overall situation.

You need to take into account the size of your farm, the labour available to you, and housing, for instance.

If you are feeding once a day to young calves, for example, you need to use a milk-replacer specifically formulated for this purpose.

It must have adequate levels of ‘slow protein’ – low-heat-dried skim milk powder. Regardless of the feeding system you have in place, colostrum management is pertinent, Christine and Tom explained, and transition milk is essential, as is general management surrounding housing and hygiene.

(Source – Irish Independent – Indo Farming – Kerryman – Matt O Sullivan, Teagasc Advisor – 30/01/2020)

 

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The Rural Enterprise Skillnet is funded by member companies and the Training Networks Programme, an initiative of Skillnets Ltd. funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills.

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