1 October 1999

Organic milk

still a good option

By James Garner

PRODUCERS considering turning to organic milk production to add value to their milk price should consider it even now years MAFF conversion money has been used.

Axients Somerset-based organic specialist Derek Gardner told producers at the EDFE that the 12p/litre premium makes it attractive without aid.

"A producer with 80 cows yielding 6000 litres can earn an extra £57,000 through the premium alone. There are extra costs to come out of this figure, but this means the conversion grant isnt essential."

Using the same farm example, he said conversion aid, which is already heavily subscribed by producers waiting to begin conversion, is worth £32,000 over five years.

But there was a proviso, and he warned that only good producers succeeded in organic farming. "There is a lot of planning involved and the risks of failure are greater. When you make a heap of butyric silage you cannot buy stockfeed potatoes to feed your cows through winter."

Therefore you need to be a better than average stockman and better than average forage producer to ensure pitfalls are avoided, and this means conversion is not a decision to be taken lightly, he said.

In Mr Gardners experience, mixed farms were best suited to organic production. "A simple grass and clover system can work but you have to buy in organic concentrate and accept a slightly lower yield on a high forage diet."

It is also easier to balance soil fertility when arable crops are grown as well as clover and grass, and this also means cheaper home grown cereals can be used in the diet, he added.

Currently there is much in favour of organic milk as premiums are high and supply outweighs demand. The market has also been bolstered by Sainsbury which has underwritten the price for five years through its deal with the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative.

But premiums could come under threat from European farmers who are producing far more organic milk than the UK and this may mean they increase exports. "Presently we import just under half our organic milk requirements," said Mr Gardner.

Producers considering conversion as a way-out of financial problems must research it properly. "It is a big financial decision, which can mean extra labour, machinery and lower stocking rates which will cut the amount of corn you can grow.

"Also ensure that your staff are comfortable with producing organic milk. Stockmen and herdsmen are key parts and they need to be trained and motivated to ensure it works," he said.

ORGANIC CONVERSION

* Premiums still valuable.

* Attractive without aid?

* But good management vital.

ORGANIC CONVERSION

&#8226 Premiums still valuable.

&#8226 Attractive without aid?

&#8226 But good management vital.