21 January 2000

Taking on the challenge of organic conversion

By Marianne Curtis

GOOD forage crop establishment, under-sowing leys with peas, coping with different silages and the prospect of higher seed costs are some of the challenges faced by one Somerset farm which began organic conversion in 1989.

Oliver Dowdings Aviaries Farm, Redlynch Bruton, became fully organic in October 1992. It supports 330 dairy cows yielding 6000 litres annually, 250 youngstock, 1200 sheep between October and March, and an extensive arable enterprise.

Speaking to producers attending an organic farming conference held by Axient and the Milk Group in Cheshire, Jonathan Wilton, manager of the 580ha (1453 acre) unit explained the importance of good forage crop establishment.

The unit has 130ha (327 acres) of grass/clover reseeds of which 64ha (160 acres) are undersown with peas.

"Grass/clover leys are sown in spring rather than autumn because there are fewer weed problems. Some are undersown with peas which works well because they outcompete weeds. Arable area aid can also be claimed, providing rules are followed correctly.

"Our only problem with growing peas is weevil, which is attracted to clover as well. This can hinder clover growth but it does regrow later," said Mr Wilton.

White clover leys are currently established for three years and red clover leys for a two year period. However, lower arable aid payments and a requirement to use expensive organic seed may extend these periods in future.

"As arable payments decline, there is an incentive to keep leys for longer. This would also lead to more productive leys." The high price of organic seed may also favour longer-term leys, when new regulations taking effect from January 2004 mean only organic seed can be used. It is double the price of conventional seed, he said.

The variable composition of organic leys also means frequent changes to cow rations, according to the units Axient consultant James Shenton.

"It is also important that silages are accurately analysed for rationing purposes. When using high clover silages, find a lab with a calibration specific to that silage otherwise results may be inaccurate. Also label the silage correctly; if it contains high levels of red clover, write this on the label." &#42

ORGANIC FORAGE

&#8226 Undersow with peas?

&#8226 Seed price high.

&#8226 Analyse silage correctly.