Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 March 2018

'I was convinced it was the way to go'

John Purcell, pictured right.
John Purcell, pictured right.

Almost everything about John Purcell's farm beliesthe perception that organic beef production in Ireland is the domain of the small scale producer using a traditional farming system on low stocking levels.

After inheriting the family's 300ac farm of top quality land in 1999 - there is a good reason that they named the area Golden' - he looked at all of the farming systems from dairying to tillage.

However, it was a coincidental visit to an organic farm near Clonmel that impressed him most of all.

"I was convinced it was the way for me to go and I went in to it for the margin that it offered me and no other reason and we have been developing it since," he explained of the enterprise which became organic accredited in 2001.

Today he is operating the largest organic farm in the country, renting 125ac in addition to the 300ac home farm, with a stocking level of more than 700/hd of cattle bought in directly from organic farmers and through dedicated organic mart sales.

The cattle are carried through to slaughter at a target age of 912 days and weight of up to 350kg for the organic market.

The animals are fed a predominantly grass-clover based diet with a modest level of organic cereals at the finishing stage. The straight cereals are purchased from an organic cereal grower, while organic seaweed minerals are fed to all animals during the winter period.

"There is no comparison on the price of the concentrate purchased straight from the grower at €320-€330/t compared to the pellet ration at €600/t and we are feeding around 130t/year," he said.

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Owned machinery is kept to the minimum, comprising two old tractors, a digger, a diet feeder, and straw chopper with a local contractor employed as required.

The housing facilities are a combination of old traditional style slatted, loose housing, having converted from old hay sheds, with new solid floors as required for organic and around 2,000 bales of straw are used for bedding carried out with the aid of the straw chopper.

The cattle are mixed breeds mostly bought in at a year to year and a half.

Recent purchases cost €2.35/kg lw for 420kg heifers and €2.52/kg for 480kg steers.

There is a preference for Hereford and Angus for early finishing but the mix of cattle includes almost all breeds.

Speaking at the open day on the farm, James McDonnell, Teagasc, Oakpark advised farmers considering organic to carefully assess their grass management skills which will be fundamental to success.

"In an organic system of production the main costs are different and as the use of conventional fertiliser is not permitted, management of soil fertility is imperative and very good grassland management critical to reducing costs on concentrates," he said.

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