Jason Stanley and family, Rathdowney, Co Laois, have opened the gates of their thriving tillage and sheep enterprise to the public as part of a new ‘Growing Organics’ monitor farm programme, which is set to run for the next five years.
The family, which held an open day on Friday, June 2nd, 2023, began toying with the concept of organic farming as an option in 2010, as the high cost of concentrates and labour in their intensive sheep system had “become prohibitive”.
After careful consideration and attending a Teagasc introduction to organic production course, they decided to make the leap, and in 2011, the enterprise entered conversion to organic production.
They achieved full organic status in May 2013, exactly ten years ago, and now farm a sheep enterprise with 400 March-lambing ewes and a cereal enterprise growing malting seed barley, oats, and beans.
Jason, along with his wife, Grace, and son, Jacob, have taken over the running of the enterprise, in recent years, since 2017, from his parents, George and Shirley.
The family’s sheep enterprise reported a gross output value of €1,992/ha in 2022, with a net margin of €399/ha, excluding an OFS – Organic Farming Scheme payment of €250/ha.
He dedicates 43.5ha of the enterprise to sheep farming, with a stocking rate of 156kgs of organic N/ha.
Last year, the family’s sheep enterprise reported total variable costs of €969/ha and fixed costs of €624/ha, which yielded a net margin of €399/ha.
The remaining 28ha of the farm is dedicated to tillage crops, with a gross output value of €2,151/ha last year.
Total variable costs stood at €510/and total fixed costs amounted to €1,387, which led to a net margin of €254/ha, excluding an Organic Farming Scheme payment of €270/ha.
Fixed costs are high on the farm, due to the scale of tillage being half that of the CSO average and due to recent investments in machinery.
However, the family hope to “significantly” reduce these costs in the next 2-3 years when repayments are completed, to leave an “even more positive” net margin in the future.
Meanwhile, while the output/ha is reduced in the organic system, the family say the sales value/tonne is “greater”, which makes the sales/ha comparable to a non-organic system.
Meanwhile, the sheep enterprise arm of the farm saw variable costs with values higher than previous years due to additional soil fertility products applied last year to address low P & K soils, which is “not the norm every year”.
In its set of costings for the farm, Teagasc outlined that the family buy-in no concentrate feed and produce all on-farm.
They make red clover and MSS silage and buy-in red clover silage from another farmer to meet winter feeding requirements, along with oats, beans and the forage crop that are all grown on-farm.
All straw used for bedding is produced on the farm and is a source of fertiliser for the enterprise, along with organic dairy sludge which is imported and spread in April and May annually.
The farm holding comprises one block of land, totalling 78 hectares, which is made up of 65 ha owned and 13 ha leased.
Since 2011, “significant” changes have been made to the land use and before this, the land area was predominantly permanent pasture.
They have dedicated 12ha of the land to spring barley, for organic seed barley for Boortmalt, 18ha for spring oats, for Flahavan’s and feed, 1.6ha for spring beans for feed, 8ha for forage rape for grazing lambs, 18.5ha for MSS (Multi-Species Swards) ley for grazing and silage, 7ha of grass-red clover for the same purpose and then the remaining 13ha of grassland for the same purpose.
Since entering organics, the family have placed on emphasis on improving grassland, and as part of this, a “large” proportion of the farm has been reseeded in recent times.
In 2023, they run a 400-ewe Belclare-cross New Zealand Suffolk flock, alongside a 12-strong ram team, of breeds Charollais and Belclare.
The Laois/Offaly Producer Group member finishes all lambs and sells these to ICM in Camolin from 38 to 44kgs.
Lambing started in mid-March and was completed in five weeks, with plans to sell this year’s crop from early next month onwards.
The family continue to “develop the organic farming system, improving on aspects that have worked on the farm and making changes where necessary”.
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