8 March 2002

Chasing organic ideal can damage margins

SELF-sufficiency may be the organic system ideal, but a tonne or so of organic concentrates/cow leaves better margins, according to a four-year study conducted by the Institute of Grassland and Envir-onmental Research, Aberystwyth

Project leader Richard Weller says the research involved two organic herds.

"In 1998, the institutes 94ha Ty Gwyn Farm organic dairy unit was divided in two. On one half we supplement forages with purchased organic feeds with the aim of maximising profitability within organic standards.

"The other half is run as a self-sufficient unit, with cows receiving a high forage diet topped up with home-grown cereals."

On the first system, cows are fed 1.3t/year of bought-in concentrates costing £186/t. Milk yield is 5600 litres and margin over purchased feed is £1256/cow, says Mr Weller.

"On the self-sufficient system, cows receive 0.4t/year of cereal, with protein coming from a red clover/Italian ryegrass silage. Rolling average yield is 4555 litres and margin over purchased feed is £1151/cow."

With stocking rates of 1.7 cows/ha for the first system and 1.2 for the self-sufficient system, the higher concentrate system returns £1000/ha more profit, according to Mr Weller.

As well as lower returns, maintaining cow condition can also be a struggle with the self-sufficient system. "Maintaining cow condition in early lactation can be a problem and days from calving to conception are longer for the self-sufficient system than the first system at 135 and 130 days, respectively.

"We may look at growing forage maize, fodder beet or high-sugar grasses as a way of boosting energy intakes."

Although it may be less profitable, the self-sufficiency system may suit some farms, he believes. "Mixed farms on the eastern side of the country where forage yields are lower may be more suited to this system than farms further west." &#42