'More farmers would go organic if they knew what's involved'
Mixed farming is proving a recipe for success for Mark Harold-Barry who farms at Cordangan, just outside Tipperary town.
He has been farming for over 20 years and converted to organic production with IOFGA 15 years ago.
He is the current poster boy for Aldi, as his photo appears on the packaging for their organic mince beef range.
"It does cause a bit of a stir locally when someone recognises that it is me on the label, but it is also a good discussion point on what organic farming is all about," he says.
"People are keen to find out more information about the production methods and what differentiates it.
"I always get the feeling that if more farmers knew exactly what organic farming consisted of then more of them would be organic farmers."
Mark runs a mixed enterprise based on a suckler herd which he combines with growing organic oats, the bulk of which he supplies to Flahavan's, which has a high demand for quality organic oats.
"I usually hold a small amount back to feed to the calves when they are being weaned to help get them adjusted to a new diet. The finishing cattle might also get a little during the winter months. They are predominantly finished off red clover silage grown here on the farm," he says.
The red clover acts as a good break crop in the tillage rotation and also provides an excellent feed source for the animals.
Mark lets the animals out to graze on the cereal fields post-harvesting and they clean up any remaining green plant materials.
This keeps weeds under control while simultaneously allowing the animals to fertilise the ground.
"Clover is the main driver on my farm and it works well at getting nitrogen back into the soil," says Mark.
"When you are an organic farmer it is important to watch fertility levels, keep nutrients recycled and adhere to a practical rotation system.
"I am continually monitoring what takes place on the farm and ensuring that productivity remains as good as possible. In organic farming you must have a market for what you are producing, but it is a sector which is growing in demand so that is encouraging for farmers."
The low inputs on the farm give Mark strong control on overall operating costs.
There are permitted inputs in organic farming and Mark does avail of some of them from time to time, lime being one example.
One limitation in mixed farming systems is that production per hectare/unit may be slightly less than on more specialised farms.
However, once you balance this with your inputs it still may be more feasible to adopt a mixed system.
"My father is a vet and often worked with race horses, and his philosophy was that forcing things too much did not work.
"He was certainly cognisant of not taking too much off the land, and that approach has worked well for us."
He planted lots of trees over the years and as a result there are many natural habitats dotted around the place which have many benefits one of which is increasing biodiversity on the farm.
"I also keep bees which I feel contribute to the overall richness of the eco-system, and which I hope will make the farm more productive and sustainable in the longer term," adds Mark.
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