Ro­ta­tion­im­por­tant in or­ganic farm­ing

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COUNTRY LIVING -

Stu­art Kingston is a farmer whose or­ganic farm is lo­cated be­tween Ballincol­lig and Mac­room in Co Cork, with about 140 acres; 50 acres are in tillage, in­clud­ing three in pota­toes. He grows a com­bi­na­tion of wheat, oats and peas, or oats and peas. The re­main­der is in grass in­clud­ing 15 acres of red clover for silage.

Why the combi-crops — and why two dif­fer­ent types of combi-crops?

>> We sell to other or­ganic farm­ers, who want peas in the mix. Oats and peas are for the sheep farm­ers, the cat­tle farm­ers want all three. Oats and peas work well to­gether, they have more or less the same har­vest date. With all three, you have to wait for the wheat some­times. Last year’s har­vest was late and this year is dif­fi­cult too. You har­vest when you get an hour or two. Straw is a big prob­lem, there is never a long enough time to cut and bale at same time.

How is the yield?

>> I’ve spring crops. The oats and peas are at the end of the ro­ta­tion, so it’s lower — 1¾ tonne per acre. Wheat, peas and oats, which al­ways go into the early years of the ro­ta­tion, yield two tonnes. With the combi-crop, there are fewer weeds be­cause of multi crop­ping. The oats in the three combi-crop were def­i­nitely cleaner than oats and peas alone. The ex­tra crop keeps it clean — it’s about get­ting away from the mono­cul­ture re­ally.

I hear you get an es­pe­cially good combi-crop price?

>> The price for combi-crop is good be­cause I sell it in 25kg bags. Its €11 per bag. By the ton it’s cheaper.

What about other crops?

>> Trit­i­cale is too in­con­sis­tent — it comes too late, it sprouts, it has a vari­able pro­tein con­tent. We also tried beans — never again! They were very late and are a weed risk. Spring crops, har­vested in Au­gust or Septem- ber don’t have set weeds that carry over. But beans go into Oc­to­ber, so the seeds will have set, and the weed bank in­creases. We do grow some spuds — for ear­lies, Colleens and Or­las, and for main crops Sante, Corolla and Blue Danube. Ev­ery year suits a dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety but these all tend to be fairly solid.

You fin­ish cat­tle too.

>> We carry An­gus and Here­ford crosses as well as Charo­lais crosses, and some Li­mousin crosses too. We fin­ish here and sell to Good Herds­man. The red clover is im­por­tant be­cause of the beef car­ried here. We fin­ish cat­tle so it sup­plies 95% of fin­ish­ing diet for them. It’s good for qual­ity silage and for build­ing ni­tro­gen.

How is price?

>> Price is back a good bit from last year, hope­fully that’s a blip. I’d pre­fer if the scheme was opened ev­ery year, not just this huge in­flux one year and then none for years. Ev­ery­one could plan bet­ter. The scheme might not open un­til 2021. So we’ll have this huge over­sup­ply again. Surely some of the money the Depart­ment is hand­ing back could be worked into vi­able schemes? The pro­ces­sors need steady sup­ply too — not this one-off in­flux.

How has your land changed since you went or­ganic?

>> It’s a dif­fer­ent way of farm­ing. The land im­proves in the fourth or fifth year as or­ganic. It be­comes alive again, above and be­low ground. For the first and sec­ond year there is a resid­ual fer­til­ity. The hard­est is in year three and four, at spring­time es­pe­cially, for early ni­tro­gen pro­duc­tion. But af­ter five years, once it hits 10 de­grees the ground will work. At least by year three you can sell as full sym­bol or­ganic. I’m 19 years or­ganic; con­ven­tional doesn’t seem sta­ble to me. Prices are bad, har­vests are bad. My land here is get­ting used to be­ing or­ganic. You are al­ways learn­ing, never a mas­ter. spac­ing and Times Ro­man, 12-point) marked ‘cre­ative writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion’ to Na­tional Con­test Sec­re­tary Breda Banville, Cam­ross, Foulksmills, Co Wex­ford. Please in­clude your name, ad­dress, tele­phone num­ber, email ad­dress, guild and fed­er­a­tion on a sep­a­rate sheet of pa­per. Email copy of story to banvilleb@eir­com.net.

It’s hoped to pro­duce a book­let con­tain­ing all en­tries. Your story will be in­cluded un­less you opt out at time of sub­mit­ting en­try. In­clude stamped, self-ad­dressed en­ve­lope if you’d like orig­i­nal story re­turned. En­try fee: €5, with cheques payable to ICA Con­tests. Six sto­ries will be shortlisted to go for­ward to a na­tional fi­nal in An Gri­anán on Satur­day, March 10.

Plant­ing “combi-crops“in ro­ta­tion can de­liver very good re­sults with pota­toes, wheat, oats and peas, among other op­tions.

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