The Teagasc Farm options programme is running at various locations around the country at present. These programmes introduce farmers to a diverse range of opportunities to value add to their enterprise. myth busting is, it seems, part of the plan. Oliver Moore explores.
“The overall aim of the programme is to try to improve efficiency of farms, to help farmers get more out of the land, as well as to present off farm opportunities” Teagasc's Dan Clavin tells me.
Organic farming is also one of the options on the forth of the five evenings each programme runs for. Each organic evening will involve both the Teagsc representative and a regional organic farmer talking to the 40-60 who attend.
“Our focus is to dispel some of the myths around organic farming” Clavin tells me. “We can't cover everything about organics, but we introduce farmers to the option, and then point them towards the Certification bodies and others. We also tell them about the upcoming organic courses, in Ennis on the 19th and in Portlaoise on the 20th November, that are compulsory if you want to join the organic farming scheme.”
Clavin summarises the myths that tend to come up as being related to business, animal health and nutrient management.
Myth one is that organic is not progressive farming. “A lot see it as something from back in the 1950s. That's why the attendees can talk to real farmers about what they actually do. There are specific techniques and there is a lot of planning in organic, its is a very thoughtful, careful way to farm, whether its clover, grassland or nutrient management, good breeding, or any of the other areas organic farming focuses on in detail”.
Connected to this, there is a myth that organic farming isn't business focused, that its a come-what-may glorified retirement scheme. However Teagasc's own research shows that organic is more viable than conventional farming, due to lower costs, including input costs, and other variables.
Clavin insists that “we tell people what we know about both the good and the bad of the market, the best way to combine organic and other schemes, and emphasise how important good planning is.”
He also points out that there are good indications from the EU on markets for Irish produce, but that the Irish market is more stable than growing.
Another common myth is that animal health is a concern in organic. “There is a notion out there that organic farmers aren't allowed to dose or treat their animals. That's simply not the case” Clavin insists. “You can't” however “go in as is, you have to have a planned approach, but animal welfare is paramount. An animal will be treated if sick, but the point of organic is that preventative measures, like good stocking rates, dung sampling, ventilation, help keep animal health optimal”.
One of the organic farmers who attended recently told the other attendees about how his vet bills are lower under organic than they were previously, due to the rigorous planning and preventative measures he has to employ. There are some limits, “for example on the number of antibiotic doses in the year, and the withdrawal period is twice a long for an animal to re-enter the organic system” according to Clavin.
However, if an animal ends up in the conventional system because of the number of doses its had, it is still available for sale in that system.
The third myth relates to nutrient spreading, states Clavin. There are some restrictions – “for example, brought in Farm Yard Manure has to be composted for three months before it is spread to eliminate residues” but organic farmers can and do spread FYM, compost and slurry. This is done within normal stocking rate rules. There are other nutrient inputs allowed too, “such as ground rock phosphate, basic slag and chicken litter, with some restrictions” Clavin tells me.
For upcomings, see here