Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Pippa Hackett, has urged dairy farmers to consider going organic.
She believes that taking the organic farming path “can be a win, win for everyone”.
“I really believe the future for many intensive dairy farmers can be to go organic,” she said in a statement.
“Stocking numbers may reduce a little but input costs will come down hugely. Farmers will also have the satisfaction of knowing they are farming with nature.”
“Farming this way fits really well with the Climate Action Plan too. This is given its focus on reducing the use of chemical fertilisers and on supporting organic farming.”
She said it is also the case that consumers are seeking out organic produce.
The senator has released a video showing how a farm on the Wexford/Carlow border is managing its conversion to organic dairy farming.
Farm owner, Marie-Pascale Pollard and farm manager, Kevin O’Hanlon, have appeared in the short, four-minute clip.
They explained to Minister Hackett how they came to the decision to go organic and the resulting implications.
The farm owner gave the farm manager “free rein to test and trial”, which she believes has been instrumental in the enterprise’s success.
Organic dairy farm
Speaking of what she saw, Minister Hackett said:
“In the very week we published the Climate Action Plan, I hope many dairy farmers will have a look at the video and see what is possible.”
“I think Marie-Pascale and Kevin explain what they are doing and why really well. I certainly found their operation absolutely fascinating.”
“The multi-species sward that the cattle were grazing was luscious, and their silage and feed operation was impressive.”
She said these elements show how “quickly” they are going to be completely self-sustainable.
The farm manager explained: “We have 170-180 cows and are changing to autumn-calving because of the higher prices in winter milk for organics.”
“We are mainly grass-based for most of the year and buffer feed at the shoulders. We have short enough winters, and our grazing ground has changed slightly as regards what cows are foraging on.”
“At the moment, they are on a high clover sward, and we reseeded the field in 2019. We went back in with 2kgs of clover through the slurry tanker in 2020, and that is what they are grazing today – a high clover sward.”
“We have a lot of multi-species on the farm, about 50-acres, there or thereabouts at this stage; that goes in without fertiliser.”
“None of that ground has ever got fertiliser. This is our second full season of it. We have our perennial ryegrass swards as well and our lower, clover swards as well. We are using no fertilisers at this stage,” the farm manager said.
Marie-Pascale Pollard added: “So, we have gone full-blown now. We have full multi-species in a lot of our fields, and in the fields of grass, we also have clover.”
“So, we have chicory, plantain, red clover and grass. We have a seven-year rotation system going on.”
“At the moment, we are still buying food from outside of the farm. The plan within 12-18-months is to actually produce all of our food, especially now that we are in conversion to go organic.”
“So we started in May, but we started our conversion before that, with all our trials. We want to avoid having to buy organic food, which is very expensive. Again, it would be much more sustainable actually to do it from our farm.”
Marie-Pascale Pollard explained that she has always been conscious of climate change. “I never really fully got it in my guts, if I may say so, and for personal reasons, death in the family, and different things happening, it made me feel as well what life is about and the future.”
“I just want to make the farm sustainable. We have several people working here, Kevin, but also others living locally.”
“There are a lot of people living off this farm. I have two sons as well, and we will see if they are interested.”
“I love the idea of making it really sustainable for the future,” she concluded.
Read some of our organic dairy farmer profiles.