Tillage focus: Organic oat’s demand sees livestock decline

Donald and Aideen Treacy converted to organic farming eight years ago. Based outside Crookstown in Co. Kildare, the Treacys moved from a conventional beef and sheep farm to organics.

Through trials they have found what works best on their own farm. Last week, the Treacys held an organic walk as part of the Irish Organic Association (IOA). This allowed members to meet and exchange ideas and experiences.

Organic oats was a focus of the walk; the product is in demand and is a profitable crop for the Treacys.

Donald Treacy with his cousin James Treacy at the farm walk

Oats

Donald has been growing organic oats for Flahavan’s for four years. This year he harvested 26ac on August 10. The crop yielded 1.4t/ac at a moisture content of 16-17%.

This is actually an increase on 2017 when the crop yielded just under 1.4t/ac. In 2016, the oats crop yielded just under 2t/ac. The crop busheled reasonably well this year at 53KPH. The fan was turned up on the combine to ensure high quality, to meet Flahavan’s standards.

Donald also kept some oats to feed his beef animals during the winter. The tillage ground has been planted with a forage crop of rape and stubble turnips which will be grazed over the winter period. This is a GLAS (Green Low-carbon Agri-environment Scheme) crop.

Donald planted a crop of forage rape and stubble turnip after his oats crop

“This is a five-year rotation. I started it last year. It’s red clover for two years and oats for three years. I’m moving away from red clover because I don’t have the land base.

I was going to try winter oats, but I’m in the GLAS scheme so I need to grow a green cover over the winter.

Donald sowed the crop with a MF30 seed drill with wide spacings.

“This year it was sown at the end of April,” he explained.

Donald is happy with how his oats crop has turned out in the last few years.

“This has been in oats for two years. There was red clover in it before then. Last year was wet and there was a fierce problem with weeds, but we got it cut and away to Flahavan’s. It wasn’t easy.”

This year was a nice dry year and we averaged 1.4t/ac. The moisture was about 18% and it busheled 53.

“It was a nice crop. We had to turn the fan up as high as we could on the combine because Flahavan’s won’t pay for the poor grains.

“Oats is a well-paying crop. It’s a good crop to grow and it’s easy to grow. It’s not grown in the highlands and hard country for nothing. It likes rain. It might yield a bit better if it had more rain, but I’m happy with it.

For the time being I’m not going to go back to conventional farming. I’m getting the money out of it. I am happy that I am making money farming organically.

Aideen Treacy addressing the crowd at the farm walk

Last year Donald sowed mustard and stubble turnips in October. This year he has got his cover crop in early due to the early harvest.

“In the spring time I’ll be putting red clover and arable silage back in this field. I’ve stubble turnips and forage rape sown here. It’s sown two weeks and you can see them starting to come up.”

Donald spreads sludge from Glanbia on some of his farm.

“Sludge has been spread on this field at 3t/ac. Glanbia estimates that there are about 12kg of nitrogen in every tonne.

It does work. It makes the crops and the grass grow.

Sludge was spread on the oats stubble where forage rape and stubble turnip was sown

Donald also sowed a crop of chicory and plantain. The calves have grazed this crop already.

Chicory and plantain was sown recently on the Treacy’s farm

Beef

Donald finishes 55 to 60 beef animals per year. These animals go to Slaney Meats and to local organic farmers like Eddie Mulhall of Coolanowle organic farm.

Both beef heifers and bullocks are finished on the farm, while Donald also buys Friesian heifers from a local organic dairy farmer. He then buys milk from that dairy farmer for the calves.

Unlike most farmers in the country this year, Donald has already saved two cuts of silage and has a third on the cards. He is currently moving to white clover as he has found that red clover does not do well when grazed tightly.

Red clover is great to fatten cattle. Red clover and 1kg of oats is a cheap way of fattening cattle in organics.

“However, we are getting tied up on our land base. We have too much red clover going around; the grazing block is getting smaller,” Donald explained.

Red clover on Treacy’s farm

Reseeding plays a key role in grassland management on the farm. Donald grew arable silage this year and had just over-seeded the ground a few days before the farm walk. While there were quite a lot of weeds in the paddock, he was confident that the grass would take off in a matter of days.

Grass recently over-seeded following arable silage on Treacy’s farm

The crowd in attendance at the walk were very impressed by the grass growth and quality on the Treacy’s farm. A big emphasis is clearly put on grassland management and it showed.

Grass recently topped on Treacy’s farm

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