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The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food offers a range of financial incentives to assist those interested in getting involved in organic production. In addition capital grants are available for the purchase of specific equipment
The end of December 2007 sees the non-organic feed allowance for ruminants cease and from 1.1.2010 a reduction from 10% to 5% for pigs and poultry. Poultry producers will be faced with the challenge of producing a ration with sufficient levels of lysine which, along with increased cereal prices, will inevitably increase the cost of the ration. Ruminant farmers should not have too big a problem meeting these new standards since seaweed meal is classed as a mineral/vitamin supplement it will continue to be allowed. However for those who produce their own grain it is going to be the end of bringing in some additional non organic feedstuff onto the holding, resulting in less nutrients entering the farm.
It is not possible to have a sustainable system where nutrients leave the farm in the form of produce without it being balanced by some form of nutrients entering. Those buying in straw and organic rations will not be so seriously affected but people in the other camp will have to source some means of replacing the macro-nutrients as a minimum.
Sound manure management is important because it will reduce the losses of valuable nutrients but soil testing will be necessary to evaluate the quantity of nutrients that will need to be brought in. If the soil is found to be low in phosphorous then Basic slag could be a better bet than rock phosphate because it contains some trace elements as well. Also rock phosphate would require a soil with a ph below 6.5 to break it down and release the phosphorous. If potash is low then you may be better to get permission to bring in some dung but it can be hard to source a GM free supply. Patent kali can be applied with permission and contains 30% K and some sulphur. It costs around €360/tonne.
Buying in straw will bring extra nutrients onto the holding but I fear that with the increased cost of it this year, some producers may be tempted to skimp at the expense of the animals comfort. By skimping on straw one is breaching the standards and cheating the consumer who is paying a premium for organic produce and part of that deal is that the animals are given welfare as a priority.
Another point on soil nutrients is to consider the importance of placement of them. Firstly where to apply them in the rotation - silage is a demanding crop so you may choose to apply early in the year on this silage ground where it will be quickly utilised. Secondly there is the placement of these nutrients into the soil. When you spread it on the grassland some losses occur with the exposure to the air so some people prefer to plough down the dung for the tillage crops but again this is placing the nutrients too deep for the plants which take too long to send roots down to it. If you have well composted dung it would be preferable to incorporate it into the seed bed where the young plants can access it. If you have slurry to spread I think using a splash plate is going to
result in unacceptable losses so the extra expense of a trailing shoe system must be justifiable to all organic producers.
With the price of organic grain around €400/tonne at present, some people must be considering producing and storing grain. However this requires a large investment because it is not sufficient just to dry the grain below 15% moisture since it will also be necessary to aerate the grain at intervals. Also there are the problems of weevils and other insects - not to mention rats and mice.
Recently life has become simpler for organic ruminant producers since there is a culture which has been made by Agri-King for organic producers called ‘Silo-king W3 special’ (make sure you ask for the product suitable for organic producers). This means the grain can be cut at 30% moisture and all you need is a slab of concrete, call in your contractor at around €15/tonne to crimp, cover the heap with plastic and then cover with sand and put your rat bait out. People I know who have done it have not found the vermin a problem.
I see propionic acid is on the permitted list as a preservative. Whereas permission is required before applying it to silage, no permission is required for use with grain. Though propionic acid is naturally occurring I am surprised that it is allowed because it destroys the vitamin E in the grain, so maybe it should only be used as a last resort, but if used the vitamins would need to be replaced by feeding some seaweed meal.
With the price of grain being so high at present, and the fact that nearly all organic stock are bought on a flat rate basis it is hard to see how anyone can justify meal feeding other than to help weanlings over the weaning process. I think it has to be questioned will one see the money that one puts into them in meals come back again in the cheque for the carcass - individual circumstances will dictate that one.
The interval between harvesting and either re-sowing a winter crop or preparing a green cover, is a golden opportunity to hit any couch, germinate weed seeds, and volunteers. I discovered very little difference in the price between the more traditional stubble cultivators and the min-till machines which are very effective at preparing a seed bed with a greater output. Another machine (which I know nothing about) is the ‘Kvic-up’ which would have a reduced output but basically it is a chisel plough on the front with a PTO mechanism on the back which flicks any weeds and couch up into the air so it lands back on the top of the seed bed to dry out.
STEPS TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS
In theory a successful system would incorporate diverse enterprises with a clean grazing plan, a closed herd, a rotation which gives a degree of weed control and includes legumes, good manure management, a balance of nutrients and priority given to animal
welfare and herd health.
In practice success is achieved by keeping your record book up to date, sending in your seed derogation forms, (feed derogations cease for ruminants this December), never buy in non-organic stock without permission (other than pedigree breeding rams or bulls), never let any GM feeds near the holding, and if you are in REPS remember to leave one and a half metres of a headland when ploughing a field. If you are in doubt about something seek permission first.
A Challenging Harvest – Pat Lalor
Many of you will have experienced a challenging if not frustrating harvest for 2007. This was particularly so at the beginning of harvesting which followed a long damp spell with little hope of better weather. This resulted in crops being harvested which really were not dry enough and which would not normally be touched for another week. However, impatience and pessimism took over and the result was grain with a moisture content of 20% and much more.
The three most suitable grain crops for organic growing, triticale, oats and wheat, are much more difficult to dry before cutting than barley. This is because the grain in these crops is enclosed while on the head, whereas the barley grain is directly exposed to the sun and wind and will always dry much more quickly as a result. In general terms, I find that at cutting time, barley will be about 3% dryer than the other crops mentioned above.
Therefore for home storage, this in effect means that while barley may be harvested at 18% moisture or less and as a result can be stored with some air blown through it, it is very difficult in most years to harvest triticale, wheat and oats sufficiently dry off the combine to store without some form of drying. This is an expensive operation and can only be financially justified in certain circumstances. For each 1% moisture reduction for triticale or wheat, the cost including oil for the drying, oil to run the tractor and wear and tear and depreciation on both machines, works out at about €2/ton. A further cost of weight loss must also be added. For example, if grain is harvested at 20% moisture and the required moisture for storage is 14%, the cost for drying will be €12/ton and the weight loss will be 6%. Therefore at current prices for organic grain off the combine at 20% moisture and taking the drying costs of €12 and weight loss of €20, a minimum cost of €32 /ton is incurred to make the grain suitable for storage. It should also be noted that there is no cost added in the above calculation for the labour required to carry out the drying operation.
Many growers experienced severe difficulty in sourcing seed for winter cereals this autumn. Many conventional growers had similar difficulties. The two reasons for the scarcity were an increase in demand and a shortage of supply due to increased levels of disease in grain as a result of the inclement summer weather of 2007. As expected in these circumstances, the cost of seed increased to a new high. In future, growers will be looking more closely at keeping some seed from their own farm production where possible and if not, seed requirements should be booked from a supplier pre-harvest.
The Department of Agriculture and Food carry out cereal variety trials for the organic sector at a number of sites each year. These results are available from the Department and should be studied closely by anyone contemplating growing organic cereals.
In an earlier addition of Clover, I referred to the high cost of finishing organic beef cattle over the winter months. Since then, costs have increased and margins are so tight that I’m afraid the worst aspects of conventional winter beef production are now creeping into organic production. If producers are involved because they see it as a type of hobby or a tax write-off against non-farm income or they simply are in love with cattle and can’t do without them, then maybe they don’t need to do any sums. On the other hand, if someone is producing because they need to make a profit in order to have an income, then the mathematics become very important. In previous issues of Clover and even while I was a conventional beef producer, I have been urging people to keep a very close eye on wintering costs and to be honest with themselves when doing the figures - better still to get someone outside the family to check out your honesty. The current price for organic beef cattle off grass is very good, but a significant price rise is needed over the wintering period if finishing is to leave any margin.
How does the Organic Trust ensure the integrity of organic food?
10 Reasons for choosing to buy organic food
Organic or Free Range - Is there a difference?
Organic Trust Submission re GM - February 2008
GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and Organic Production
Soil Nutrient Management for Irish Organic Agriculture
A flavour of the type of articles and items you are likely to find in Clover magazine - the quarterly magazine for the professional organic producer - published by Organic Trust.