If a particular field of grass was not responding to fertiliser, would your first thought be to throw out more fertiliser? Well it might be, if someone else was paying for the fertiliser and your main objective was to get the field to respond one way or the other.
This is what struck me when it was announced that compensation rates would increase for farmers who convert to organic production. Farmers did not respond sufficiently to the cash offered last year, so more cash is now being thrown out.
It is relatively easy for the Government to do this, since it is the citizens’ money and above all, their main objective is to get farmers to respond to organic incentives.
The value of organic food might be increasing, but that does not automatically mean people are eating more organic food
What might have been more useful than throwing money at the problem (as they see it) would have been to ask farmers what the issues were around conversion. While nobody asked me why I would not convert (at the moment anyway), I am more than happy to state my reasons.
Before saying a word, let me stress I am not against organic farming. But I have serious concerns about the blunt approach being taken by Government to meet their target for land under organic production.
My first worry would be the market. Or lack thereof. The value of organic food might be increasing, but that does not automatically mean people are eating more organic food and less conventional. When organic increases its market share rather than just its value, then that might indicate a more solid trend.
While some farms might have such infrastructure already in place and TAMS grants might help the rest of us, it is still a barrier to entry
Borrowing money to build additional housing is another issue. There might be a few mart sales during the autumn for organic weanlings or stores, but it would appear that most organic stock is finished on the farm of origin. For me, that would mean putting up another shed, and more debt to finance it. While some farms might have such infrastructure already in place and TAMS grants might help the rest of us, it is still a barrier to entry.
What would also put me off would be the changes around day-to-day farm practices. No better man than myself to make mistakes and learn from them, but the journey from conventional to fully organic seems to be a long one.
New knowledge is often gained painfully and at a cost
Will the promise of a cheque in the post later in the year help with a cow down calving in March, when you are wondering if you are allowed to call the vet? And if the vet administers medicine, will you lose your organic status? I can Google these queries, but new knowledge is often gained painfully and at a cost. Further education on new record-keeping practices is also in the small print.
A bigger direct payment might persuade some farmers to take the leap and sign up this time. But blanket-spreading more and more money in the short-term creates an unhealthy ecosystem which may result in bigger problems down the line.
Everyone must examine their own situation and decide what is best for themselves and their farm. But as the man on the singing contest used to say, “It’s a no from me.”