In 2001, Conor Larkin and his father Aidan were not happy with the performance of their sheep station at Lusmagh, Banagher, Co. Offaly.
Increasing problems, mainly due to parasite control, coupled with poor pricing, forced them to consider other options for their 146ac (59ha) operation.
After research and farm visits, organic farming seemed like a good solid path to take, so they switched with the Irish Organic Association.
To deal with parasite problems, the Larkin felt that mixed grazing would work well, so cattle were introduced. The land is light with a high proportion of sand and gravel; Part of the country is part of the Shannon Callows so winter flooding is a regular occurrence.
“I think it’s important for farmers who are interested in the organic option to visit as many organic farms as possible to get a good feel for what’s happening on the ground,” says Conor, who recently published a national Organized organic event for the ACA.
“We’ve been growing organically here for two decades, and the system has taken a lot of adjustments to get to where we are now.
“I work off-farm, so that was one of the considerations when looking at business options. Farmers need to consider land and soil type as this is critical to achieving long-term fertility.
“Our country is unique, so our management has evolved to accommodate the country type.
“The older stock is managed on the callows, the younger stock on the pasture platforms. The cattle and sheep are managed as one grazing unit and moved to a fresh paddock every other day. I run a total of 14 paddocks.
“Overall, this system worked well in terms of parasite control, which is important in an organic system.
“I don’t overseed very often as the close grazing by the sheep keeps the clover in the turf and thus maintains fertility. This summer was challenging as I had to buffer feed due to the drought and some of the cows were fed hay.”
The 30 suckler cows are all Limousins, the 80 ewes are a mix of Belclares and Bleu du Maines.
The Limousin bull is kept with the previous year’s heifers and the bull is changed every two years.
Heifers and non-pregnant cows are completed and sold primarily to Slaney Foods and GoodHerdsmen. Lambs are sold to ICM in Camolin.
Conor also sells some lambs and beef to nearby Lough Mountain Farm, which sells organic meat direct to consumers.
“A strong market is essential for organic farmers and we have managed to sell our products on the organic market, mostly getting a premium price,” he says.
“We make a great product so it’s nice to be recognized for the work we put into breeding and raising the farm animals. The development of the organic market in Ireland and abroad will be crucial to ensure the sector continues to thrive.
“This is also true at the policy level where continued financial support and easy access to agri-environmental and other schemes are essential to expand the organic supply base in Ireland.”
Long-term productivity is something Conor monitors closely.
“Organic farmers need to be very aware of nutrient management,” he says. “I use farmyard manure and manure that comes up on the farm; I also take liquid manure and some manure from surrounding farms.
“Based on soil analysis, I used dairy sludge to increase the nutrient content. I do regular soil sampling because our light soil type requires nutrient monitoring; After 20 years of organic growing our soil indices show three and four for phosphorus and potassium so I’m very happy with that.
“The sheep and cattle are made ready with grass without being fed with flour. I buy straw for bedding, which helps with general fertility.
“Ten years ago I built a new barn with grants and the housing system works very well for animal welfare and also to take in valuable nutrients that will later be spread on the land.
“We need to see some research into organic production in Ireland, both in terms of fertility management and in other areas such as B. Organic grass seed varieties developed for Irish conditions.
“Research plays a key role in the future of organic farming in Ireland as too many farmers use information that is not relevant to Ireland. Hopefully, as the sector grows, critical mass will ensure that more information about crop and livestock systems is available here in Ireland.”
Conor welcomes the increased interest in organic farming.
“Organic farming will not be for everyone, but it will work for many farmers. I don’t think it has increased the workload in any way – that goes for managing inventory and paperwork.
“I could never imagine going back to conventional farming; The system we’ve developed here works well and is a really good way to farm land and produce quality food at the same time.”
Grace Maher is Development Officer at the Irish Organic Association, email@example.com
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/beef/beef-farm-profiles/how-grazing-management-can-play-a-key-role-in-parasite-control-41981308.html How pasture management can play a key role in parasite control