Farming

| 3.8°C Dublin

'You need to do a bit of everything to keep yourself afloat in organic farming'

My Week: John & Fiona Curran talks to Tamara Payne

Close

Family farm: John and Fiona Curran with their daughters Mary (18), Anna (14) and Lucy (11) on their organic farm in Fordstown, Co Meath. Photo: Mark Condren

Family farm: John and Fiona Curran with their daughters Mary (18), Anna (14) and Lucy (11) on their organic farm in Fordstown, Co Meath. Photo: Mark Condren

Family farm: John and Fiona Curran with their daughters Mary (18), Anna (14) and Lucy (11) on their organic farm in Fordstown, Co Meath. Photo: Mark Condren

In 2005, Fiona and John Curran decided to convert their traditional farm near Fordstown, Navan, to a completely organic business. The Currans had bought the farm in 2002 and had been working 60 hectares with sucklers and sheep.

The couple had two young daughters at the time (they have since had a third) and made the decision that instead of paying for childcare facilities, Fiona would stay at home to look after the children and the household.

"The farm just wasn't making enough money," explains Fiona.

"Some of the land we had been working was leased so we had that extra cost too," says John. "We also had fairly substantial bank loans that had to be paid so we knew that we had to do something a little different from what we had been doing - the farm needed to become more profitable."

The conversion to organics took two years, with the Currans selling their first organic produce in 2007.

"We reared 40 sucklers for organic beef and had 150 sheep lambing so we were selling around 220 organic lambs," says John.

Before converting to organics the Currans sought advice from Teagasc and the certification bodies in an attempt to best prepare themselves for their new venture. John went on to become Meath IFA county chairman and helped establish the IFA organic project team in 2018, while Fiona is the secretary of the IFA farm family committee.

Fiona and John wanted to utilise the facilities they had to the best of their ability so when the sheep left the sheds vacant over the summer, they decided to rear organic turkeys, which would take up residence on their farm every August.

"The turkeys filled in a gap for us, it meant that the shed was paying for itself and not just lying empty for those months," says Fiona.

"Organic farming, just like traditional, can be futile and changeable however," says John, and for this reason, the Curran family believe that the key to success lies in being diverse.

"With organics, it's good to do a bit of everything; one year lamb prices could be low, the next year there could be a lot of rain resulting in damaged crops, so to keep yourself afloat it's a good idea to not just focus on one aspect of organic farming," explains Fiona.

Keeping in line with this belief, Fiona and John have recently begun to grow organic oats for Flahavan's, and while this could be considered the most profitable enterprise according to John, it comes with its risks and difficulties.

"Although organic oats are twice as profitable as conventional oats, it's a high-risk crop, particularly in relation to crows. We can't use any sprays or pesticides so therefore once you sow it, anything can happen," says John.

"We have had to buy flying hawks to keep birds away," adds Fiona, "Other problems can arise when there is a lot of rain; the crop can lodge, resulting in it being difficult to get combines into the field."

Rotation

Once cut, oats must have a certain moisture content and bushel weight in order to be suitable for Flahavan's. Top quality is essential.

The Currans say the key to success in producing organic oats is good crop rotation and soil management.

"Rotation is normally grass and clover, three cereal crops and then back to grass," says John.

There is no waste on the farm either as the crops grown are used to feed and bed the animals.

In addition to organic farming, John also has his own fencing business, a small enterprise which aids the running of the household.

"The price of beef has declined rapidly over the last 12 months and there doesn't seem to be any incentive by the processors or Bord Bia to find new markets," he explains.

"Therefore the fencing is convenient for us as it generates that little bit of extra income."

Self-sufficiency is extremely important to the Curran family.

"The majority of what we eat comes from our farm," says Fiona. "We grow our own potatoes and veg, we have an orchard and grow various types of berries which I freeze and make jam from, and all of the meat we eat is from our own animals."

This lifestyle may not be for everyone, but it has its benefits.

"There's three things I will never be," smiles Fiona, "I will never be rich, hungry or cold.

"I will never have a lot of money, which doesn't bother me one bit, I will never be hungry as we live on a farm and I will never be cold as we have plenty of timber outside for the fire."

Indo Farming