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In the light of Mellow’s College’s decision to go organic, Sinéad Devaney, organic teacher at the college, looks at the state or organic farming in Galway

Organic production is one of the few expanding markets in the food and farming sector.

This expansion is consumer driven. The greatest demand is for fruit and vegetables, followed by dairy products, meat and bakery products. Market surveys in Europe and all over the world show a huge scope for expansion in organic production.

The uptake of organic farming in Co. Galway is among the highest in Ireland. Most farmers in Co. Galway are farming at stocking rates suitable for organic farming. The average organic farm size in Co. Galway at 24Ha, which exceeds the conventional county average of 20Ha, indicates the level of interest locally.

Organic farmers can avail of price premiums for organic produce in the region of 25-40% for meat, 20-30% for milk and 20-100% for vegetables.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme

Apart from price premiums there are attractive payments for organic farmers under the Rural

Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) -Supplementary Measure 6.

There is a two-year registered conversion period before a farm becomes fully organic. A farmer can register with any one of three organic bodies in order to convert to organic farming. The organic bodies are approved by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. An Organic Development Committee was also established by the Department of Agriculture in 2000 to draw up a strategy for development of the organic sector in Ireland. The Organic Unit of the Department, based at Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford operates a Scheme of Grant Aid for the Development of the Organic Sector.

Teagasc is committed to supporting organic farming in Ireland and has put a support programme in place. Its objectives are as follows:

To promote the establishment of producer-processor partnerships in order to achieve an increased and more consistent supply of quality organic produce
To develop and provide a comprehensive range of training courses for prospective and existing organic producers
To establish a dedicated advisory service for organic producers
To establish a network of monitor farms and discussion groups so as to facilitate the promotion of organic farming and the transfer of the best technologies to producers
To support the advisory and training arm by having a specific research programme with the objective
To improve knowledge, develop blueprints, establish economics and minimise the constraints associated with low input organic farming.

Mellows College Farm

The college is undergoing a radical change at the moment as it converts to organic farming. Over time a full range of short courses and full-time courses will be offered, as the college becomes a national centre for the development of organic farming.

The farm covers 110 hectares (272 acres). It is farmed organically at a stocking rate of approximately 1.6 livestock unit per hectare. The main enterprises on the organic farm are dairying, suckler beef, mid-season lamb, cereals and poultry. There is a sixty-cow dairy herd plus replacements. The herd is currently all spring calving but an autumn calving section is being established for winter milk production. The suckler herd consists of thirty mainly continental cross cows. Replacements are kept from within the herd and the aim is to finish beef off the farm.

Sheep and poultry

A flock of one hundred March-lambing ewes are kept, producing replacements from within the flock. The ewes are mainly Suffolk and Belclare crosses moving towards Texel and Belclare.

About 10 hectares of cereals are grown for use on the farm.

A flock of 440 layers are kept and other poultry enterprises are to be established.

The farm will act as a demonstration farm for farmers showing organic farming at a commercial scale.

If you would like more information on organic farming or wish to be included on Mellows Organic mailing list contact Sinéad Devaney at Mellows Agricultural College, Athenry, Co. Galway

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Written by Sinéad Devaney

Published here 15 Jul 2023 and originally published Summer 2002

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