Organics: 'We need to change sooner rather than later'
Dairy farmer John McHugh tells Grace Maher why he is going organic
Over 500 farmers took the decision to leave mainstream farmer and convert to organic dairy, beef, sheep and other enterprises last year.
John McHugh, a dairy farmer in Clondarrig, just outside of Portlaoise, Co Laois, was one of those who took the plunge. John (35) has run the family farm since his father died in 1999 and in the intervening years he has streamlined production on the farm.
The farm was typical of the area, a mixed enterprise with 30 cows, 100 sheep and 100ac of barley and sugar beet. The first to go were the sheep as it was very labour intensive and in 2006/7 John built a new milking parlour.
He purchased milk quota, and as it was profitable it made financial sense to focus on dairy production. In 2007 he started off milking 60 cows and by 2015 was milking 160. Now he has taken it a step further and converted to organic.
"Of course it made me rethink what I was doing on the farm," says John about the abolition of quotas. "In my view I was approaching full capacity here and the farm was responding well and was profitable. I felt pushing the farm any further was merely chasing output.
"While economics was one aspect the overriding reason for my conversion to organic production is environmental sustainability. I have done my research and am confident that I am making the correct decision for me and my farm. I am the third generation of farmer on this farm to use chemical inputs, we are trained not to question them, but there has to be a better way of producing clean quality food.
"I really believe that there are big problems associated with how we are doing things - we need to change and sooner rather than later. Organic farming for me represents a more productive method of farming, one that measures the full cost, both financial and environmental, of the inputs involved," says John..
John is not taking converting to organic lightly. He has done his farm projections and expects a drop in income during conversion but his conservative projections predict his profits will soon return to current levels and above it.