Rotationimportant in organic farming
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 email@example.com.
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Planting “combi-crops“in rotation can deliver very good results with potatoes, wheat, oats and peas, among other options.