Getting familiar with Organic Entry Level Stewardship protocol

Neil Jeffery, Newquay

Having made the monumental decision to turn our much-loved farm and family business into an organic dairy unit, we began to take our first shaky steps on the long road ahead and applied for a conversion start date of October 2006.

After reseeding about 15% of the farm to a red clover, white clover and grass mix, the next stage was to apply for DEFRA’s Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS), which is available to both existing organic farmers and producers entering land into conversion. Providing producers achieve a certain number of points, they can benefit from payments made in recognition of the changes required to enter conversion.

To apply for OELS, we had to contact a certified organic inspection body, which came out and audited land. We also had to contact the Rural Land Register to check land was registered with them. Once these processes were in place, we got in touch with Natural England, as their Crewe office handles the OELS applications, and sent out all relevant forms and maps we needed to complete.

To help us on our way, OMSCo held a beneficial series of workshops for farmers converting to organic dairying. Incorporating all aspects of the organic farming system, they covered diverse topics such as herd health, slurry and forage management.

Dad attended these and, among other things, learnt that good record-keeping is a real priority for converting farmers. Keeping really comprehensive records has meant we were able to prove that we had not used any sprays or fertilisers on some land for up to four months. This should help in our quest to have some of the farm fully organic from June 2008.

Apart from having to tighten our belts a little during the initial period, the conversion process is going well, so far. We had a slight mishap when some of the grass seed was attacked by slugs, but at least it meant we learnt our first lesson, which was that we should flat roll the field until we can ride a push-bike across it without leaving a mark.

  •  Next time Living without fertiliser, cropping and grazing