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Sustainable farming: How the Keanes in Co. Meath made a successful switch to organic

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Donal and Frederique Keane, along with their daughters Pauline and Marie as well as son John, run an organic suckler to beef and cereal farm in Camelton Stud, Summerhill, Co. Meath.

There has always been cattle and tillage enterprises on the Keane farm. In 2010, having sat down at the end of the year and taking a look at the overall costs of their farming systems compared to the returns, the Keane family started looking for any other options going forward.

Donal Keane had always been uncomfortable with the use of chemical fertilisers and sprays on grassland and crops but thought that they were necessary. With the increasing cost of inputs and falling price of produce Donal knew he needed to make a change. He started researching other farming systems and spoke to a number of organic farmers.

On meeting a local organic farmer, who gave him an overview of the organic farming system, Donal began seriously looking at organic farming as an option and saw it as an opportunity to improve the overall financial position of the farm. The Keanes also recognised the environmental benefits of organic farming.

After careful consideration and having completed the Teagasc FETAC Organic Farming course and visiting other organic farms, the farm entered organic conversion in 2011.

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Donal & Frederique Keane

Donal & Frederique Keane

Donal & Frederique Keane

Changes made since the organic farm switch

The Keanes have sowed red clover. Red clover fixes free nitrogen from the air and its silage is very high in protein. It can finish the Angus stock with little or no grains which is important as organic grains are very expensive.

On the cattle side, they started a suckler herd with Angus cross cows running with an Angus bull. This breed suits the organic system; easy calving, vigorous calves and stock that finish well off grass or off red clover silage.

The Keanes also increased their tillage area significantly and began to grow oats on contract for Flahavans. They also grew varieties of heritage wheat on a field scale as part of a project to produce flour high enough in protein (12.5pc) to make sourdough bread.

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Farm Walk

The Keane Family will host an Organic Farm Walk on Wednesday, 15 June at 2pm in Summerhill, Co. Meath. On the day of the farm walk, you will see wheat, oats, and the suckler herd along with their progeny. You will also hear from the Keane’s what changes they have made to their farming system since 2011 and their plans for the future.

Topics that will be discussed on the day will include:

  • Growing an organic cereal crop
  • Manure management
  • Crop rotation
  • Grassland management
  • Animal health and welfare
  • Routes to market
  • Organic Certification

This farm walk along with all the farm walks in the programme are a great opportunity for people with an interest in organic farming to visit an organic farm in practice. As well as that, people can also meet and speak with producers and organic sectors experts.

Teagasc along with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are running a series of Organic Farm Walks throughout the summer. To find out more or book a ticket for any of these events visit the website here.


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