August 17, 2022

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Andy Fagan had been running the family mixed farm in Carlanstown, Mullingar for only two...

Andy Fagan had been running the family mixed farm in Carlanstown, Mullingar for only two years when he made the decision to switch to organic, back in 2015.
It was a really good move,” he says. “It works for me because everything that I am producing is going into a growing market, and I get a premium price for that product.
“I am a carpenter by trade and I still work part-time.
“The farm has to make enough money to justify my time managing it.
“The combination of both jobs is great. My wife Dawn helps out, and this time of the year I am farming full-time as we head into busy calving and lambing seasons, to make sure things run smoothly.”

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Andy’s son Scott (3) feeds oats to the sheep

Andy’s son Scott (3) feeds oats to the sheep
The 52 hectare (128ac) farm has cattle, sheep, forestry and a small area of tillage. This works well both in terms of workload and for rotations and disease management.
Andy hopes that the 150 ewes will yield 240-250 lambs this year. The sheep are a mix of breeds including Belclare Suffolk, Texel and Mule crossed with Charollais and Texel, and he has a Suffolk ram for replacements.
The cattle are mainly Simmental and Charolais mixed with Angus.
When he converted in 2015 Andy began finishing cattle.
“That was more profitable and the aim is to have the majority of animals sold to the Good Herdsmen by November, leaving me with plenty of shed space over the winter ready for calving in the spring.
“All the lambs go to ICM in Camolin, which has worked out very well. I supply them generally from June to December.
“I prioritise the silage ground for the cattle. Last year was the first year that I grew 6ac of red clover, and I was very impressed.
“I know it was a great growing year but even so when I tested the silage it had crude protein levels of 19.2 and DMD of 71.7, so I will definitely be incorporating more red clover into the silage ground.
“I got three cuts of silage and it was also grazed three times, so it has certainly performed.
“Since I converted to organic farming, I have probably reseeded 10pc of the farm and I will continue to expand that.

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Andy with his wife Dawn and son Scott (3) and daughter Brooke (8 months)

Andy with his wife Dawn and son Scott (3) and daughter Brooke (8 months)
“I am lucky in that I can rotate the silage ground and rest it, which gives you a little more flexibility.”
For the past few years Andy has been growing oats to feed to the sheep.
“Years ago, tillage crops were grown on this farm, so bringing that back has been rewarding.
“I usually grow about 6ac of winter oats as they are excellent to feed to the ewes and lambs, and they love them.
“My rotation is two years of oats and then two of clover.
“I would encourage any organic farmer with suitable land to produce some cereals to feed livestock, as it really reduces your input costs and gives diversity within a rotation.”
To maintain fertility, Andy uses the farmyard manure from the cows who overwinter in the shed.
He also uses slurry, and imports slurry from a neighbouring farm.
Local contractors are used for silage, slurry and dung spreading, and for the oats.
Converting to organic farming was relatively straightforward for Andy.
“I did the organic production course, which was a good introduction, then with encouragement from my local Teagasc advisor Paul Gibney, I took the plunge and joined the Irish Organic Association.
“Animal numbers on the farm were not particularly high so I did not have to reduce stocking numbers very much, which certainly makes things easier.
“The cattle shed did not need very much modification, the lie-back area that existed was suitable for cows, and now I just give them plenty of straw and they are very comfortable.
“I have availed of the TAMS II Organic Capital Investment Scheme to erect a sheep shed and handling facility, which has made a huge difference to facilities here.
“With regard to animal health, as an organic farmer you do have to pay attention to what is going on within the herd or flock, as prevention is the best approach.
“I do regular dung sampling watching out for fluke and worms.
“In general, I have not found maintaining animal health too challenging as it is essentially based on good husbandry practices.”
Andy is participating in the Department soil sampling programme and says regular sampling is important on organic farms.

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The sheep are a mix of breeds including Belclare Suffolk, Texel and Mule crossed with Charollais and Texel, and he has a Suffolk ram for replacements

The sheep are a mix of breeds including Belclare Suffolk, Texel and Mule crossed with Charollais and Texel, and he has a Suffolk ram for replacements
“I find it very useful to indicate what is going on both at soil level and with regard to both nutrient cycling and animal health,” he says.
“You can never know too much about what is happening as sometimes things can be difficult to spot until it is too late.
“This year is our second year to have agriculture students from Ballyhaise College doing work placement here.
“It is nice to have students interested in your way of farming and it makes you think a little more about your approach.”
For the past few years Andy has sold wool to Ulster Wool.
“I have been paid a premium, which is great as too often wool is seen as a waste product,” he says.
“Covid-19 affected the global organic wool market slightly, but demand seems to be growing again which is positive”.
“We are hosting a Field Talk Programme with the Irish Organic Association here on Saturday, February 12.
“My advice to farmers considering organic conversion is to ensure that what you are producing has a market, then there is no problem farming it.
“Production costs are high so it needs to be reflected in the price you are getting, because technically organic is a lovely way to farm, but you need to be rewarded for what you are doing.”
Grace Maher is development officer with the Irish Organic Association; [email protected]

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Why this farmer switched to organic after just two years of running the family farm appeared first on maserietv.com.