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Considering Organic Conversion on Drystock farms

Colm Kelly, Teagasc Advisor, Ballinasloe, answers the questions commonly asked by drystock farmers considering converting to organic farming. Questions like ... "Is treating animals for health issues banned?" and ... "Where can I sell animals?" Get the facts here

A recent announcement on the proposed Organic Farming Scheme payment rates for 2023 has improved interest from drystock farmers. Should the proposals be accepted effective from 1st January the payment rates are increasing to €300/ha for the first two years in-conversion, and €250 for the following 3 years. These rates are paid up to 70 ha with land above 70ha attracting a further €60 for the first two in-conversion years and €30 for the following three years. In addition to the area based payments it is proposed that there will be a participation payment of €2000 in year one of conversion and €1400 per year thereafter to help support the increased costs incurred. In this article I will go through some of the common queries from drystock farmers since this announcement.

Will it involve changes to overwintering?

The main requirement is that at least half of the animal housing floor area has to be solid floor dry bedded. This is a sticking point for a lot of people who have 100% slatted housing currently. Slats can be replaced to convert to solid flooring and there is currently a TAMS OCIS grant for this investment. Any floor alterations need to be in place by the first winter.

What happens with fertiliser?

Chemical fertiliser is not allowed in organics. The nitrogen component can be offset on grazing ground through improving clover or establishing multi species swards. On silage fields the incorporation of clover or establishing a red clover silage crop will be important sources of Nitrogen and improving silage quality. Fixation estimates generally range from 4.5-6 bags of CAN/acre equivalent from clover swards. Alternatively arable silage crops may be an option in rotation allowing peas to be added as a Nitrogen source. Possibly the more challenging nutrients to replace will be Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K) and Sulphur. There are mineral fertiliser sources that are organic approved but it is advisable to consult with certification body as to what products are acceptable and from what sources. Imports of cattle slurry, horse manure and dairy processing sludge have been allowed once they satisfy Organic certification. The purchase of straw bedding will also add P and K into the system.

Is treating animals for health issues banned?

Animals can be treated with animal remedies however this can be done only where there is an express need which may require evidence/veterinary guidance. The withdrawal periods are also longer and compared to conventional farms can be double for many treatments. The focus will be on management practices to prevent health issues rather than depending on routine treatments.

Where can I sell animals?

Finished stock can be sold to abattoirs that specialise in organic processing. Stock can also be sold live to organic finishers. As organic feed can retail significantly higher than conventional it will be important to reduce the purchased concentrate input. Steps to achieve this can include growing your own cereal crops within a rotation which offsets feed, bedding costs and helps reduce worm burdens. Farmers can also pursue a low input breeding program using traditional or composite breeds which have the ability to finish off grass with little supplementation.

Can I put part of the farm into Organics?

It is possible but you must be able to satisfy the requirements that the organic unit is separated from conventional and there is no risk of conventional inputs on the organic holding. Any conventional farming must be carried out with a separate species.

Is there more administration?

Farmers undergo a 25 hour organic farming training course. An organic conversion plan is also required. Licensing by a recognised organic certification body is required prior to scheme application which will involve fees. The two certification bodies are Irish Organic Association and Organic Trust. Record keeping will also be an important component of Organic compliance.

Can I join other schemes as well as organics?

Yes you can but it is important to note that there is currently no ‘double funding’ particularly on area based measures. So in the past if a farmer was to enter GLAS and have 5ha of Low Input Permanent Pasture. This will only be paid on the GLAS scheme and the 5ha does not receive an Organic payment which is particularly relevant on smaller holdings.

For further information see www.teagasc.ie/organics or contact your local Teagasc office

How does the proposed payment rates work out?

Proposed Drystock Payment Rates including Participation Payment
Area Year 1
Year 2(in-conversion) Year 3 Fully Organic Year 4 Fully Organic Year 5 Fully Organic
10Ha (24.7 acres) €5000 €4400 €3900 €3900 €3900
20Ha (49.4 acres) €8000 €7400 €6400 €6400 €6400
40Ha (98.8 acres) €14000 €13400 €11400 €11400 €11400
70Ha (173 acres) €23000 €22400 €18900 €18900 €18900

For more information about Organic Farming from Teagasc visit www.teagasc.ie/organics and follow us on Twitter @TeagascOrganics