In recent years, prices for organic beef in factories have generally been 15 to 20% higher than conventional prices, according to Teagasc.
With close to 1,800 organic farmers in the country, about 70% are involved in cattle production, while organically managed land now occupies approximately 2% of the total utilisable agricultural area (UAA) in Ireland, which is over doubling in size compared to the last decade
However this compare with an average of 5.7% of UAA across the European Union.
Teagasc has outlined 10 steps to look at before changing to organic beef production.
1. Get the information
Prospective organic beef farmers should first consult with their agricultural consultant or adviser to determine their suitability. An effort should also be made to attend Teagasc/DAFM Organic Demonstration Farm Walks to see organic production systems first hand.
2. Asses the market
For organic farming to be profitable a premium price must be achieved for produce sold. While the majority of beef supplied to the market is from steers and heifers, recent markets have emerged for calves (organic veal) and cull cows.
According to processors the demand for Irish organic beef will continue to rise, especially in mainland Europe.
3. Maximise payments from the Organic Farming Scheme and other supports
Teagasc advises farmers to consult with your agricultural consultant or adviser, or the Department website about the scheme and grant support available for organic farming.
An organic farming scheme which is an area-based payment and both an on-farm and off-farm capital investment scheme is funded under the Rural Development Programme and opens up at various stages throughout the programme.
4. Complete an organic course
A 25-hour ‘Introduction to Organic Production’ course has to be completed before acceptance into the DAFM Organic Farming Scheme.
5. Choose an organic certification body (OCB)
In Ireland, there are three certification bodies which certify organic operators involved in land-based farming. A farmer initially applies to one of the three certification bodies with the application form, conversion plan and fee payable.
Once the application is accepted, a conversion date is granted and a conversion period (normally two years) begins.
The Organic Certification Body carries out an annual inspection to check compliance with the standards and spot inspections may also be carried out.
6. Complete an organic conversion plan
This involves a detailed description of management practices on the farm, the changes required on the farm, soil analysis, faecal analysis, livestock housing plan, animal health plan (in consultation with your veterinary surgeon) and land/crop rotation plan.
The plan can be drawn up by the farmer alone or in consultation with the farm adviser. Attending a FETAC accredited “Introduction to organic farming course” is an excellent way of learning how to complete the conversion plan.
7. Provision of quality forage
To maintain farm productivity, stocking rate must be maintained as high as possible. In the absence of artificial nitrogen, white clover may be introduced into pastures to maintain grass production levels.
White clover is the ‘engine’ that drives productivity on organic farms and can fix in excess of 100kg N/ha annually.
Red clover can fix in the region of 200kg N/ha annually and can be a high yielding, high protein feed for wintering animals.
8. Animal health
Ensuring high animal health and welfare standards is a fundamental ethos of organic principles.
The farmer must be aware that the level of stocksmanship required with animals is very high on organic farms. Routine dosing of anthelmintics for tapeworms, roundworms and flukes is prohibited.
If a problem occurs, faecal analysis is recommended and the vet must sign off the appropriate treatment on the organic farmer’s record book.
The animal health plan, produced as part of the conversion plan, will deal with mineral deficiencies and vaccination issues.
9. Animal housing
Many farmers find that the greatest alterations that need to be made at farm level are changes to winter housing. More generous space allowances are required – for cattle the rule of thumb is that 1.0 m2 is required for every 100 kg live weight.
All stock must have access to a dry bedded lying area. Up to 50% of this area can be slatted but the rest must be solid floor. Conventional straw may be used for bedding.
10. Nutrient recycling
Maintenance of soil fertility levels depends on the creation of a sustainable system which balances farm inputs and outputs without relying on external inputs.
Good clover swards, crop rotation and targeted use of farmyard manure and slurry mean that coping without artificial fertiliser can be managed effectively.
Certain slow-releasing natural mineral sources of fertilisers, ground limestone and certain commercial ‘bagged’ lime products are permitted provided they are approved by the organic certification body.