Making the switch to organic tillage – ‘It wasn’t all about money’

Gavin Tully is a relatively new organic tillage farmer, after making the decision to convert his entire 100ac tillage farm to organic farming earlier this year.

This week, he opened the gates of his farm to those interested in making the switch as part of the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers (IOFGA) Field Talk programme.

Speaking at the farm walk in Camolin, Co. Wexford, Tully said the decision to convert to entire farm involved a lot of thought and deliberation.

He initially brought in 25ac of tillage ground into organics in 2015, before making the decision to convert the whole farm earlier this year.

However, he said that despite the finances of the farm improving since he brought in the first 25ac, the decision to make the switch to was not fully driven by profits.

I used to drive along the farm road way and used to see how close I was spraying to the water supply and just said to myself what am I doing here?

He also said that chemical companies rather than merchants are taking the profits from tillage farmers.

Gavin Tully and his son Jack pictured at Wednesday's farm walk
Gavin Tully and his son Jack pictured at the farm walk

Financial performance of the farm

Tully initial made the decision to convert 25ac of the farm to organic farming in 2015.

And he said, the results of the switch really made him consider his future in conventional tillage farming.

From 75ac of conventional winter barely and wheat I had €9,500 left after seed, fertiliser and spraying costs. The 25ac of organics returned €10,500.

Tully added that the reduction in fertiliser and spray costs were a major attraction to organic farming, while the per hectare payment also helped him make up his mind.

Presently, conventional tillage farmers who make the switch to organics are paid €260/ha for the first 20ha over a two-year conversion period. This falls to €170/ha from year three on.

Tully also grows a range of protein crops on the farm, including lupins, peas and beans, which he said are beneficial in terms of the income generated from the farm.

Farmers who grow tillage crops under the Department of Agriculture’s Protein Aid Scheme receive a payment of €280/ha for the production of these crops.

Crops grown on Gavin Tully’s farm:
  • 5 hectares of lupins
  • 5 hectares of triticale
  • 0.4 hectares of potatoes
  • 7ha of peas
  • 3 hectares of beans
  • 2.5ha of barley
  • 0.5ha of combicrop (a mixture of barley and peas)

Check out the organic crops growing on Tully’s farm below:

Managing without artificial fertiliser inputs

The move into organic farming means that Tully is no longer able to spread artificial fertiliser on his farm.

To ensure that the crops perform to their best, he said, that he is currently involved in a straw-for-dung trade.

This involves supplying a local farmer with straw for bedding and getting the manure back as fertiliser for the farm.

He also said that he has just received approval to spread dairy sludge on the farm, but this involved the process of getting a ground water survey carried out.

However, Tully said that the sludge will cost about €500 if he decides to spread it himself, as this was the cost of getting the relatively ground water survey carried out.

Tully said that the sludge is supplied by the Glanbia Creamery in Ballyragget, Co. Kilkenny and he said it will supply the farm with much need Phosphorous (P), as it contains 8 units of P/1,000 gallons.