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Organic is still the best for farmers

Co-op chief remains defiant

By Linda McKee

There's never been a better time to convert to organic agriculture, one of Northern Ireland’s leading organic dairy farmers has insisted.

Despite reports of a dramatic reversal in the numbers of UK dairy farmers converting to organic from conventional methods, Rex Humphrey, managing director of farming co-op United Irish Organic, insisted that now is the time to give up the chemicals.

Last week it was reported that rises of up to 80% in the price of organic feed for dairy herds mean that hundreds of organic milk producers across the UK are now running at a loss.

Farms undergoing conversion to organic which were capable of producing 5m litres of milk have abandoned the process to return to fertiliser-intensive farming.

Mr Humphrey admitted that a small percentage of dairy farmers undergoing conversion in Northern Ireland have also abandoned the attempt, but insisted that, with rocketing fertiliser costs, organic is again starting to look more attractive.

“Many farmers went into organic production when the outlook for conventional farming, especially milk production, was fairly bleak and the return was 16p-19p per litre. They were looking at organic milk fetching 34p/35p within an increasing demand,” he said.

“Suddenly things changed and the price of conventional milk rose to 25p/26p at a time when many farmers were at the very difficult point of their conversion.

“They’re converting the land from the use of chemicals and relying on clover sward for nitrogen but this hasn’t had time to be properly established. You’re not applying nitrogen to the surface but the clover isn’t established yet. It takes a leap of faith.

“A number of farmers who were already under pressure from the strict disciplines of organic farming decided to revert to conventional but it was a relatively low percentage.”

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