Since the Department of Agriculture reopened the Organic Farming Scheme for new applications in February, some of our Footprint Farmers have been considering making the move to organics. In this article, we will explore the requirements they would have to meet to apply to the latest tranche of the Organic Farming Scheme before the scheme deadline of 8 April.

Organic Farming Scheme eligibility criteria

In order to be eligible to apply to the Organic Farming Scheme, a farmer must:

  • Apply and be registered by one of the organic certification bodies.
  • Produce livestock and crop products according to European Union organic standards.
  • Declare all farmed land in the applicant’s name on the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS).
  • Complete an approved organics training course.
  • Undergo annual inspections.
  • Factors to consider before applying

    Conversion period

    To convert the farm to an organic system, the farm must undergo a conversion period of two years and pass inspection before they are fully certified as organic and can sell their farm produce as organic.

    Animal medicine

    The withdrawal period for organic animals for allopathic medicines is longer than for conventional animals. In some cases, the withdrawal period is doubled. Routine use and treatment of animals with prophylactic drugs is prohibited in an organic system. Farmers must carefully consider the treatments they use on their farm to ensure performance is not affected.

    Animal housing

    At least 50% of the animal housing floor must be solid while providing adequate space per animal housed of 1m2 per every 100kg liveweight. Animals must have access to a dry-bedded lying area and conventional straw can be used as a source of bedding.

    Animal feed

    Animal feed must be sourced from an organic source. Table 1 shows the price comparison of animal feed priced per tonne collected from an organic animal feed company compared with conventional feed companies.

    Purchasing stock

    Only 10% of your adult herd and 20% of your flock each year can be purchased with non-organic status.

    Soil fertility

    Ensure the availability of nutrients in the soil by maintaining soil pH in the optimum range. Regular soil samples should be taken to ensure that soil pH is maintained and organic manures are targeted at soil low in phosphorus and potassium. Lime and rock phosphate can be used.

    Stocking rate

    As fertiliser use is no longer allowed, crop yields will most likely be reduced. Good clover management will be essential, while stocking rate will most likely need to reduce significantly. This means income will be down as the bonus per kilo of meat (approximately 15c/kg to 30c/kg for lamb and 40c/kg for beef) on the Footprint Farms will not make up for the lower stock numbers.

    Is this the right move for our Footprint Farmers?

    One of our Footprint Farmers considering the change to organics would have enough shed space to meet animal housing requirement so that will be no issue. However, another farmer in the programme would not have the required shed space and this is going to be a big barrier for them converting to organic due to the current cost of building.

    Many farmers making the move to organics would find this particular requirement very challenging and costly to adjust their current animal housing at farm level.

    One of the Footprint Farms contains low soil indexes of index 1 and index 2 for phosphorus and potassium. It may be wise to build up these indices before converting to organic farming. They need to consider the sources of P and K on the farm before making the move as building these indices may prove difficult. Liming will help and can continue under organics.

    While input spend is significantly reduced without the use of fertilisers, other costs rise substantially. For example, based on the prices in Table 1 sheep coarse ration is approximately 38% higher than conventional sheep coarse ration and beef coarse ration is approximately 46% higher than conventional beef coarse ration.