independent

Friday 25 April 2014

'I would be taking a cut in income if I left organics'

2012 was a year when rainfall levels broke records all over the country and farm incomes were down by 12pc. But has it deterred seasoned organic producers?

Trevor Harris has been a certified organic farmers on his 230ac mixed system in Donadea near Naas, Co Kildare, since 1999.

His land is heavy and his worry was that he was in for another 2009, when he recalls "the soil took two years to recover".

Uncharted territory

Trevor's farm is split into two parts, cereals and grass. Each year an area of grass is ploughed down, while another area is sown to grass and clover (both red and white).

This is then ploughed in after four years. There is a substantial area under forestry, with a mixture of hardwoods and softwoods.

Trevor is in AEOS and is one of the few organic farmers who found that the scheme worked for him.

"Although there are limits in AEOS for organic farmers, I was fortunate in that I wanted to increase my tree and hedge planting, so the hedge planting, hedge laying, planting trees, coppices and wild bird cover requirements all suited me."

Tillage rotations

Alongside the oats,Trevor grows organic wheat and peas. In the past he has grown beans, however, he found that it was hard to control weeds with the bean crop.

He is currently growing peas, but is not convinced he will continue to do so.

"I don't feed my animals protein, I prefer to feed wheat and oats, so therefore I am selling the peas off the farm.

"For the past two years I have sown peas in spring and have been lucky to harvest them in August.

"The main reason that I am growing them now is for a break in my rotation."

This year Trevor is trying a new venture by planting winter oilseed rape. All going well, the crop will be harvested next July.

Livestock production

Now entering his 14th year of organic production, Trevor is even more convinced about the benefits of organic production. "Even in a difficult year such as this, I feel confident that I am where I want to be with the organic cereals.

"They are the most profitable part of my business, but I am now turning my attention to the sheep and cattle to see where I can make improvements," he said. He has 25 cows and 30 stores and weanlings that are brought to beef.

Trevor uses AI and breeds his own replacements for the farm. The cattle are crossbred Hereford, Simmental, Charolais and Angus, while the sheep are Brown-faced Texels crossed with Belclare.

Current organic prices

In the past five years organic beef prices have only once fallen below €3.50/kg. Although 2009 and 2010 saw a significant drop, organic beef haSsmaintained, with few exceptions, an average price of over €4/kg.

Prices this year have remained stable, with reported prices this November of €4.85/kg. This year Trevor received on average €4.50/kg. For his oat crop Trevor received €400/t, a price that has remained fairly stable.

Future plans

When prompted about the future, Trevor stated that he was happy with organic farming. "I could not go back to conventional production at this stage. I would be taking an income cut if I went out of organics."

With a growing demand for organic tillage crops and organic beef, the sheep are the only part of his enterprise that have proved difficult to sell this year.

Trevor has begun to sell lambs directly into a restaurant in Dublin and hopes that this will expand in future years.

"In tough years like this it helps to have a diverse range of enterprises on farm. However, it is also important to add that good farming skills are essential to be successful in organic production, particularly when the weather is against you. Let's hope 2013 is a better one."

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