Despite the recession, sales of organic foods in Ireland has stabilised at €98 million per year, a recent Teagasc organic farm walk heard.

The walk took place on Mark Duffy’s farm in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan and heard that fresh meat sales account for approximately €6m per annum. In Europe the market for organic food has quadrupled in size over the last 10 years.

This growth represents an opportunity for Irish farmers to supply more organic food, especially organic beef. In 2012, there were over 9,000 organic cattle slaughtered in Ireland by 526 farmers, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The majority of animals were slaughtered by processors. Approximately 5% of animals were slaughtered in organically certified abattoirs with the meat sold through farmers markets, box schemes or direct to consumers, speciality retailers, local shops or restaurants.

The major factory outlets for organic beef are Goodherdsmen, Slaney Meats and AIBP. Premium prices of +15 to +20% have generally been achievable for organic beef in recent years.

The majority of organic cattle are exported (~70%) mainly to UK and mainland Europe, especially Germany and Scandanavia. There is also a market available at present for calves to supply the organic veal market. The organic beef price fluctuates throughout the year, it is usually at its lowest from October to January when larger volumes of
grass fed animals are presented for slaughter during this time.

Organic cattle sold in spring tend to achieve highest prices but they may also incur higher costs associated with winter finishing.

Mark along with his wife Grainne and their three children Dillon, Kate and Ryan live on their 22ha family farm. In 2008, Mark made the considered move into organic
beef farming and began his organic conversion period which lasted two years. Prior to conversion Mark had a conventional suckler cow to finish enterprise.

Since organic conversion, the suckler cow numbers have been reduced and extra stock from other organic farms and organic marts have been purchased and
supplied to finish. All progeny on the farm are supplied into the organic beef market with 40 – 45 cattle supplied annually in recent years

Mark’s keys to a strong financial performance are based on a number of factors:
• Markets: Mark is very conscious of the market place and the demand for finished organic beef animals and therefore aims to supply the organic market during the winter/early spring period when organic beef prices are generally at their highest. The market price for organic beef has generally been 15 – 20% ahead
of conventional prices in recent years.

• Productivity: Mark has maintained relatively high productivity levels compared to other farmers by achieving a fast turnover of quality relatively young finished stock. He has carried out a number of innovations on his farm to keep production levels high, including:
→ Reseeding with grass mixtures containing high amounts of clover.

→ Forage rape – turnip mixes have been sown almost every year over the last five years for fattening cattle prior to slaughter during the Winter period. This provides a bulky, high protein feed for finishing cattle.

→ Arable silage and arable combi-crops have been grown as cover crops on new grass – high clover pastures to produce extra quality Winter fodder for finishing cattle.
→ Keeping organic matter nutrient levels high and maintaining nutrient levels by importing fertiliser onto the farm in the form of layers hen manure from free-
range and organic layers units (average 25 tonnes per year depending on Nitrates rules at a cost of €5/tonne including delivery), lime and permitted mineral
fertilisers (Slag fertilisers).

• Costs: Costs have been kept low by having no artificial fertiliser bill. Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) levels have been maintained since organic conversion mainly by the financially resourceful use of imported hen manure from organic and/or free-range farms. Mark also cuts and bales his own silage and spreads his own slurry and FYM.