The increased payments announced for next year’s Organic Farming Scheme generated a lot of discussion at the open day on the Irish Farmers Journal Tullamore Farm this Tuesday.

A panel discussion on the future of beef farming heard differing farmer views from the floor on the pros and cons of conversion.

Co Monaghan organic beef farmer Mark Duffy cited a low farm direct payment and less income volatility as two of the factors that pushed him to undergo conversion.

“I don’t know if everyone is in the right frame of mind to go down the organic route. I know if I had 80ha, I could make it work,” Duffy claimed.

“I got my prices until Christmas so that’s a plus. I know what I can go out and spend. The only way I can make it work is no meal and no fertiliser.

“Now, I sent cattle away with no premium. I sent cattle in May with 10c/kg,” he said.

Maximising subsidies

Beef and sheep farmer Sean McNamara told the Irish Farmers Journal that he had seriously been considering making the switch to organics with the higher payment rate.

A lot of farmers will be considering organic and it will leave less cattle for the factories

Such a move would mean carrying less stock and possibly having to lose out on an organic premium, should demand for organic beef and lamb fail to materialise. With the payments, it will still make financial sense to convert, according to McNamara.

“I think there will be a lot of farmers weighing up their options this year. A lot of farmers will be considering organic and it will leave less cattle for the factories,” said McNamara.

“Farmers are going to say I can get €300/ha along with my Single Farm Payment, why keep myself raising cattle? Just keep the bare minimum and draw as much as you can on the sub. Especially older farmers, younger farmers might do different.

“With the cost of inputs, in my personal opinion it’s the way to go. It would take an awful lot of stock to make that sort of money,” he said.

Higher premium needed

Suckler farmer Val Connell finishes most of his progeny on his farm in Co Westmeath. Connell said that he was “99% decided on going organic”.

Farmers need their fair share of retailer and processor margins to keep suckling and organics could provide additional revenue to those running low-input, more extensive systems, he argued.

“It’s made into something it isn’t,” commented Connell on organic farming. “There’s a lot of fellas very near to it. They aren’t that highly stocked.

“The bottom line is we don’t receive enough percentage of the [end] price for our product. We need to wrestle control back to get a greater share of the price paid for our product.

“Suckler cows have never been profitable without supports. The bottom line is we need to get a fair share of that price now,” said Connell.