Organic is a term becoming increasingly recognised in Ireland especially in the last ten years when it started receiving more meaningful support from government. Organic farming is still relatively low in Ireland at only 2% but is growing.
So, what is organic farming and what does it involve?
It is a system of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost, and biological pest control. Currently, crops include oats for Flahavans’ porridge and feed crops for our animals. We follow a rotation or three years cropping followed by three years in grass or red clover, which we grow to produce silage for the winter. We have about 30 suckler cows and 125 ewes and then a few pigs and hens. Our animals also follow a rotation of grazing around the farm since sheep and cattle do not share the same stomach parasites. Our few pigs usually have a field or part of a field for a year before being moved on. We have to plough the field after the pigs as they dig it up rather successfully. We don’t always use green manures, which is where a crop is sown and then ploughed in at a later date to help fertilise a crop; we have on occasion sown fodder rape which our sheep can eat over the winter but it can be a battle to get it sown early enough in the year.
As for composting, this is something we do every summer with the dung which has built up over the winter underneath the cattle. It is turned a few times over the summer and spread in the autumn on the red clover which will be cut for silage the following summer. Slurry also builds up over the winter and is spread in the spring on tillage fields where it is ploughed in before sowing. It has to be said that biological pest control is not something we actively practice but the sowing of combi crops of wheat and peas or oats and barley and peas certainly seem to be mutually beneficial leading to increased yields and healthier crops. Once plants are not forced to grow artificially quickly through the application of synthetic nitrogen they tend to be much healthier and stronger, therefore less likely to be affected by pests and fungus.