Since the Organic Farming Scheme reopened last month many farmers may be considering whether their farm would be suitable to convert to organic. Before you decide, you should read our handy guide on everything you need to know about converting:
Registering and Converting
When deciding to convert you must contact you local farm consultant or advisor. Prospective organic farmers must undergo a conversion period of two years before their produce is allowed to be sold as organic.
Make a Plan
Farmers interested in converting to organic must prepare a plan which involves a detailed description of: management practices on the farm, the changes required on the farm, soil and faecal analysis, livestock housing, animal health and a land/crop rotation plan.
The plan can be drawn up by the farmer alone or with the help of a farm advisor.
Welfare and Housing
Under the scheme the permanent housing of all stock is not allowed, while the prolonged confining and tethering of animals is also prohibited.
Bedding materials that are preferably organic must be provided. Provided that 50pc of the floor area is bedded, up to 50pc of the floor area may be slatted.
Castration and dehorning are permitted where it is judged to be necessary for considerations of safety and welfare.
Synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are all prohibited under the scheme. Organic material must be used as manure.
Specific cultivation techniques such as mulching and stale seedbeds should be used and well planned rotations are regarded as an essential part of successful organic production as it helps to maintain soil fertility, reduce weeds, pests and disease, provide sufficient organic feed for stock and reduce risks by maximising the range of cash grown crops.
Veterinary and livestock nutrition
Only where a known farm problem exists may specific drugs be administered. However strict identification procedures and withdrawal periods must be observed. Treatment of healthy animals and the routine use of prophylactic drugs is prohibited.
Antibiotics are not generally permitted and fertility drugs are not allowed. Only where a known dietary deficiency exists in home grown feeds is mineral supplementation permitted
Purchase of stock
Ideally all purchased livestock should be sourced from organic producers. However, in practice due to limited availability producers are permitted to buy in livestock from conventional sources and these animals must undergo a conversion period.
Organic farming involves undergoing a period of conversion to allow the land to adjust to the new methods of farming. The conversion period for a livestock grass based system is 2 years, arable and horticultural 2 years before sowing the crop and perennial crops is 3 years before harvesting the forest crop.
There is often a financial cost associated with conversion. These costs vary according to individual farms. Factors that affect financial costs include: output reduction due to changes in production practices, capital investments in land, machinery etc, certification and inspection costs.
There is a requirement of a minimum of three hectares for tillage farms, one hectare for horticulture and 6 hectares for all others. During conversion tillage land less than 20 hectares can earn €260/ha per annum and then €170/ha when it has gotten full conversion status. In addition a top up of €30 per annum for red clover is included up to a maximum of 10 hectares