Inability to control weeds and rushes is a major concern to going organic

A membership survey by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has pointed to weed control and in particular rushes as a prohibiting factor to going organic. The survey of over 250 members (which is still ongoing) saw this concern expressed by over one-third (34%) of farmers.

The next most pressing factor at 22% was the increased costs of meal and fodder associated with being organic while reduced output and unsuitable land type were the next two considerations at 13 and 12% respectively.

Of those who completed the survey, 12 % are organic farmers which is well above the national average and a further 10% indicated that they are planning to join with 18% indicating that it is something they are currently considering.

In relation to whether farmers would go organic or what would be the deciding factor? On this 37% of farmers currently not organic indicated that they have no plans to go organic however of the remainder there are four pull factors of similar importance. These factors include the additional payment under the organic scheme at 25% of the remainder, with profitability and better for biodiversity featuring equally at 21%, while 18% felt the policy is going that way. Interestingly only 7% indicated that reducing stock numbers would be a factor in going organic.

Speaking on this INHFA Vice President Micheal McDonnell indicated how the survey confirms the growing interest there is in organics and stressed the need for improved support around the concerns outlined. The issue of controlling weeds and in particular rushes and docks is, he stated “an ongoing concern for many farmers and clearly, there is a need to examine improved methods and new technologies in addressing this.”

One option McDonnell recommended pursuing is the use of rushes as a bedding alternative to straw. “While such an option would help reduce costs it could be counter-productive in helping to spread rushes” he maintained. With this in mind, there is, he stressed a need “for science-based studies on what happens to the rush seed when used in bedding and if composting can help to destroy the seed. If he added, “the rush seed dies when composted or left in bedding for a period of time, then the rush crop moves from being a weed to being an asset.”

Beyond concerns around managing weeds, the INHFA leader also expressed concern around access to the organic farm scheme detailing how commonage land cannot get a payment under the scheme. This he stated “is something that needs to be reviewed and we are calling on the Minister and his department to push the EU Commission (who are the architects’ of this ruling) to reconsider their position.”  The INHFA leader concluded by stating that “there is an urgency to develop markets for the produce produced on Organic farms, namely a proper return for both Beef and Sheep meat in our processing facilities. The market has to reflect the added value this type of farming is adding to the product”.