Food-grade crops key to profit for this organic farmer

The BioFarm 2019 conference this week certainly provided plenty of food for thought. It brought together a host of people from different sectors of agriculture, albeit a large amount of organic farmers and those that go by the title of “biological farmers”.

The most interesting talks from an AgriLand point of view were those of farmers telling their stories, such as Thomas Fouhy, who farms in Co. Cork.

As an organic farmer, who also practices minimum tillage, Thomas is finding niche markets and thinking methodically about what he plants. He told attendees that he is more profitable now than he was in his conventional system.

While addressing the conference in Portlaoise on Wednesday, November 6, he noted that most food for human consumption is brought in from outside of this country and he believes there is a market there to supply quality produce to the home market.

But it takes a while to get these products right and to build up a consistent supply. For example, Thomas trialed 15 different types of wheat before he found one suitable to supply his customers.

Forget about animal feeds and go to human consumption. That’s where the extra profit margin is.

“You must find a market. You look at the specifications and you work back from there, but don’t tell the person you’re going to supply them in six months, because you probably won’t have a crop before two to three years to give them a constant supply.

“It is profitable, but you must also look at the infrastructure you must put in place to make it sustainable going forward,” he continued.

Diversity is key

Thomas encouraged the audience to diversify in their cropping options and to have multiple streams of income.

Speaking from experience he outlined some of the crops that have been successful and troublesome on his farm. Thomas described barley as a “tricky” crop to grow in an organic situation, and while some farmers are successfully growing it for brewing and distilling it simply wasn’t for him.

He did suggest rye as a fantastic crop on very marginal ground, but pulses were what he was most interested in.

The easiest thing to grow in your rotation, or to extend your rotation, is to put a protein crop in a combi crop. It’s probably one of the easiest ways of getting into growing a protein crop on your farm.

Thomas added that oats and peas can be separated with the oats being used for porridge and peas being used for animal feed.

Linseed is another favourite for the Co. Cork man.

“I grow linseed constantly. It’s probably my most profitable crop,” Thomas stated. It’s used in porridge, muesli and for oil extraction. He added that there is an explosion of mycellium in the ground where it is grown.

Create a profit

The reason for all of these crops was to diversify the farm and create a profit.

“These are all alternatives. They make a small farm more viable. There are grants out there. There are educational grants out there.

All of this can make a marginal farm profitable without having to go outside the farm for a job.

Thomas had tried many different crops, from lupins to lentils, quinoa, buckwheat, sunflowers and many more.

He encouraged people to broaden their minds when looking at different markets.

“There’s quite a number of cosmetic industries putting in organic sourced oils. It’s quite specialised, but I want people here to think outside the box.”

He noted that these plants have increased biodiversity on his farm. He has plenty of flowering plants to feed bees for example. While having a mixed rotation is a benefit to his soil it also makes his farm a great place to work and enjoy the wildlife around him.