Bernard Donnellan farms about 30ha in Co. Galway. He is a pedigree Limousin suckler farmer, with 30 pedigree cows and two Belgian Blue crossbreeds in his herd.

All heifers and bulls are sold for pedigree breeding. Although some heifers are sold at Ballinasloe Mart, 70% of the stock is sold privately.

The Galway man has been in the business for the past 21 years and until recently, has been – in his words – a “traditional suckler farmer”.

However, like many across the country, Bernard is making the switch to organic farming.

Goes organic

His interest in organic farming, while not new, really set into motion when the price of fertilsier went up this year. After seeing the price increase he said he began looking at alternative solutions.

It was online that he found out about the organic fertiliser Supersoil. Then, completely by accident, his neighbour handed him a bag in exchange for a loan of his trailer.

Bernard trialled the Supersoil organic fertiliser on two half-acre paddocks.

“Within three weeks, I seen huge benefits on the ground. The results have been really amazing.

“I had been thinking about going organic before Supersoil, but after using it, it really made my mind up to go for it,” he said.

From now on, Bernard said he will cut out all chemical fertiliser. Next spring, he will only use Supersoil and slurry.

Grass, cost and animal performance

After spreading Supersoil, Bernard found that grass growth performed really well in his herd’s grazing rotation.

“Under my rotation, my grass growth performed the same as it would have in previous years when I spread chemical fertiliser on it,” he said.

Not only did the Galway farmer notice the “lush” look of his grass, but he said the quality was evident and the cattle thrived too.

“My cattle cleaned off the land really well. I weighed my calves for ICBF (Irish Cattle Breeding Federation) a few weeks ago around the same time as I did before, before I used Supersoil on the land, and the weights are very similar,” he said.

“One thing I’ve noticed actually, I’ve had cows that have gone back in calf very, very early and I wonder if cutting out chemical fertilisers had something to do with that.

“We also have a mare and foal here and they absolutely love the grass,” he said.

The cost saving – being his main draw to the switch – was a huge plus too, he said.

He had been using roughly 10t of chemical fertiliser for his farm which this year, he estimates, would have cost him roughly €10,000.

This year, the farmer believes he has saved around €8,000.

“I only spent €1,200 on Supersoil,” he said.

“It’s a huge difference and with the way things fluctuated this year I’ve made an enormous saving.”

And, none of this was as the expense of his forage output.

“I practically got the same amount of loads as previous years,” he said.

Unforeseen benefits

Somewhat less-discussed benefit too, the farmer said, is that it doesn’t warrant certain weather conditions to be spread.

“It’s very adaptable, you’re not waiting on the weather to put it out whereas you’d be waiting for a rain shower before putting out chemical fertiliser. It’s very easy spray on,” he said.

“That’s the big benefit of it. I spread it two or three different times. I put it out in the real fine weather and it worked really well.

“I can put the cattle back on the land a lot quicker. I put them out the day after spreading,” he added.

“If it was raining I’d spread it on land with cattle in the field. It’s washed into the soil straight away.”

There’s also less labour involved, he said.

“Not lifting big heavy bags is a big advantage to me at my age,” he said.

“There’s no need for any transport going to the local merchant and trying to haul chemical fertiliser.

“If I ordered Supersoil on Monday morning I’d have it by Wednesday. It’s delivered bang on time.

“There’s big advantages like that. It might not mean much to some people but I found it a huge advantage.”

An organic future

“I think there’s a big future in organic farming,” he said.

“I was talking to some people the other night and they were telling me how they can’t get organic meat or anything anywhere, and I said it’ll be coming.

“I’ve a son coming into farming and he’s big into organic food. He’ll be taking over eventually and he’s very much for going organic.

“He’s big into protecting the environment and I am myself as well. I have about 5.5ac of hedgerows on the farm, plus 20ac of forestry. I try to keep everything in good condition. I reckon I’m carbon neutral.

“With Supersoil, we’re definitely doing less damage to the environment in terms of the run-off into rivers, it’s absorbed into the soil a lot quicker,” he added.

“It’s a lot more environmentally friendly too.”

For more information on the organic fertiliser Supersoil, click here.