We are farming a few more acres and have a few more animals around the place this year and two obvious things have dawned on me.
The first is that more animals equals more money tied up in the farm. Managing cashflow and merchant credit were mere concepts before, but are now a reality for the farm.
The second thing is that our fertiliser bill has gone up. Not a huge amount, as we spread what is needed rather than what is advised, but it is an increase on previous years nonetheless.
When I say organic I am thinking ‘organic principles’ more than ‘organic certification’
Organic is never far from my mind and the bigger fertiliser bill has put it very much back on the agenda here again.
Let me clarify. When I say organic I am thinking ‘organic principles’ more than ‘organic certification’. I have great respect for any farm that is organically certified, but I am more interested in reducing bought-in chemicals than gaining a label and trying to sell produce direct to consumers.
After attempting to sell lamb directly last year, I realised marketing and logistics are not my cup of tea, so I will leave direct selling to the real artisans and the professionals.
Perhaps our export markets are content with the green, organic-like imagery used for our conventional produce
Delivery from farm-to-consumer seems to be the only real option for organic produce, since other routes to market are lacking. This should not be the case, since we are constantly told that the EU market for organic food is growing all the time. But if Ireland Inc. promotes organic exports, do we automatically talk down conventional agri-food exports?
Perhaps our export markets are content with the green, organic-like imagery used for our conventional produce. If so, any premium they might be paying for it does not make its way back to the farm-gate.
In parallel, processors have invested hugely in conventional production in recent years, and it is unlikely they will allow themselves to be distracted by niche markets such as organic. Government policy has supported them in this regard, and given the hard currency that exports bring into the country and the employment generated by conventional farming, how likely is it that any Minister for Agriculture will properly support organics?
I will focus on learning and trying to implement organic principles
While the EU wants 25% of land in organic use, the Irish Government is locked into conventional production and so will drag its heels with tweaks, minor funding, and lip-service.
So, rather than chasing premiums for organic produce, I will focus on learning and trying to implement organic principles. Our stocking rate will stay relatively low. We will work on soil fertility, building cover crops into rotations and diversity into grass swards. I am fed up lambing ewes, but will buy store lambs to continue mixed grazing with the cattle and lower worm burdens for both species. I might even try to make my own molasses foliar spray again to make docks taste sweet for cattle.
Even if we did not want to move in this direction, the winds of policy change are only blowing one way.
The rules are changing and those who adapt early will be least impacted. And what farmer in their right mind does not want lower fertiliser bills?