'Organic tillage is a no-brainer, but supports needed to help change'

The farmer behind Kilbeggan Organic Porridge says organic tillage production is a 'no brainer'. Stock Picture.
The farmer behind Kilbeggan Organic Porridge says organic tillage production is a 'no brainer'. Stock Picture.

Gearoid Keegan

State support for organic farming must be reintroduced to stimulate the sector, a leading producer has said.

Irish organic farmers cannot meet the demand from retailers for oats and milk and the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) has been closed since 2015.

"In tillage and dairying there's a market there crying out for more operators and because the organic scheme is closed nobody is coming into it," said Pat Lalor, the farmer behind Kilbeggan Organic Porridge.

Speaking to Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, he said Flahavans has to import organic oats and the milk producers cannot meet the growing demand for organic formula.

Lalor said the support scheme, which spreads payments to farmers over five years and is crucial in the initial two-year changeover period, need not be opened to cattle and lamb producers.

Lalor converted his farm to organic in 1999 and now grows at least 80 acres of winter oats each year, in addition to his 150-acre organic cattle enterprise.

On his arable land he runs a two-year winter oats and red clover rotation system.

He takes two cuts of silage each year and fertilises his own land by cutting and mulching the red clover regularly.

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His oats yield this year was three tonnes per acre and he would be disappointed any year if it dropped below 2.5 tonnes.

Long-term attention to soil biology and elimination of expensive inputs are the key to the crop's success.

"The [conventional] tillage guys are saying they're not making money and they're not, because of their costs and their inputs," said Lalor.

He sows in October and a tractor does not enter the field until harvesting in July.

Farmyard manure from his straw-bedded cattle is used as fertiliser and weeds don't grow in the crop because by the time they are ready to come up in the spring the oats is already too tall.

"It's a no-brainer. I don't know why conventional guys don't do it. I don't even know the price of conventional fertiliser, I wouldn't have a clue," said the farmer.

Oats grown on his own farm is sold in the smaller shops, health food outlets, delis, butchers and fruit and veg sellers.

Lalor does not have the scale to be able to supply oats to supermarkets but he has developed a range of biscuits and oat porridge bread mix.

Lalor also told the Minister that an expansion of organic farming would reduce the damage being done to water by conventional farming.

There is no run-off from slurry and emissions from machinery are much lower.

"Organic definitely ticks the boxes for the environment big-time," said.

It is expected the next round of CAP reform will shift the focus from production to sustainability.

Lalor said Ireland still has a very low rate of farmers involved in organic production, with only tiny Malta trailing behind in Europe.

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