Organic farming - your questions answered

Useful advice and guidance in the form of questions and answers in relation to organic farming.

What is organic farming?

Organic farming is a farming system which produces high quality food to an EU approved set of standards.

Organic food products leaving a farm or processing plant are certified to these standards as a means of guaranteeing to consumers that the products have been produced according to these organic standards.

Is there any financial support for organic farming?

The Northern Ireland Rural Development 2007to 2013 (NIRDP 2007 to 2013) contains an Organic Farming Scheme which will provide support for conversion to organic production.

What is the Organic Farming Scheme?

The Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) is an Agri-environment package which supports conversion to organic production.

OFS agreements run for a period of five years during which you are committed to farming according to organic standards and remaining certified by an organic certification body.

Is there a grant for converting organic buildings?

There is currently no grant scheme for organic buildings.

How long does organic certification take?

Land normally has to go through a minimum of two years before it achieves full organic status (also known as symbol status).

Crops sown or transplanted into fully organic land may be sold as organic.
Livestock to be sold as organic will be available some time after the land has achieved fully organic status. The time period will depend on the type of stock and other factors.

Does my land have to be tested so it can be certified as organic?

Land is not tested for pesticide or other residues unless a problem is suspected, but a recent soil analysis is required for certification.

Who controls organic certification?

EC Council Regulation 2092/91 controls and regulates organic production in the EU. It will be replaced by an updated Regulation 834/2007 on 1 January 2009.

In the UK, Defra publishes the “Compendium of UK Organic Standards” as the UK’s base line for organic certification, on behalf of the four UK rural affairs departments.

Who carries out organic certification?

A number of Defra-approved independent organic certification bodies carry out organic certification on farms and processing units.

Who do I contact for certification?

You contact one of the independent certification bodies directly. All registration with Defra and the EU is carried out by them on your behalf.

Who should I contact to find out more and get the process of conversion underway?

A recommended option is to contact the CAFRE Organic Team on 028 9442 6765.

You will be put in contact with the appropriate organic development adviser who can assist you with the conversion and certification processes and provide ongoing technical support.

They will also provide information on the Organic Farming Scheme.

Can I use conacre land as part of my organic farm?

Land requires a two year conversion period, so annual conacre cannot be used as part of an organic farm.

Rented land will need to be taken for an extended period for example five years, and if the Organic Farming Scheme is claimed, then a five year rental agreement may be a necessity of the scheme.

When am I able to sell my first organic produce?

During the first year of conversion produce may not be sold as organic – it must be sold onto the non-organic (conventional) market.

If appropriate, produce during the second year of conversion may be sold as “organic – in-conversion” produce, if there is a market for it.

Once land has completed its conversion to full organic status, crops sown or transplanted into fully organic land may be sold as organic.

Livestock to be sold as organic will be available some time after the land has achieved fully organic status. The time period will depend on the type of stock and other factors.

What are organic standards?

Organic standards are the set of “rules” which, as a registered organic producer, you must follow in order to maintain your certificate which will allow you to sell produce as organic.

What are the markets for organic produce in Northern Ireland?

A number of meats plants are certified to take organic beef and lamb.
There are a number of outlets for organic milk.

Organic vegetable producers tend to develop their own markets through delivery schemes or farm shops.

A number of organic farm shops have opened.

Some producers supply (wholesale) produce to farm shops and delivery schemes.

What pesticides can I use in organic production?

No chemical weedkillers are allowed in organic production.

A very small number of basic fungicides are allowed – you need to obtain special permission (derogation) to use them.

A very small number of simple insecticides are allowed– you need to obtain special permission (derogation) to use them.

Can I use veterinary medicines in organic livestock production?

Most veterinary medicines are allowed in organic systems, usually on an individual animal basis.

You need special permission, based on proving a real need, to use them.
If too many medicines are used, there is a risk of animals losing their organic status.

Can I use fertilisers in organic production?

Artificial fertilisers are not allowed in organic production.

Soil fertility for growing crops and grass is based on:

  • planned cropping rotations
  • clover in grazing and cutting swards or green manures
  • managed use of manures, composts, and slurries
  • approved supplementary fertilising materials
  • imported organic manures such as organic poultry manure – limited use

Organic means no sprays, no fertilisers, you just let crops grow – right?

Wrong - Organic production requires you to develop an integrated production system including:

  • planned cropping rotations
  • clover as a means of getting nitrogen into the soil
  • managed use of manures, composts, and slurries
  • carefully selected crop and grass varieties
  • mechanical weed control techniques

It is not what you don’t do, it is what you do, do

How do I get nitrogen into the soil for crop and grass growth?

Clover (white and/or red) is the key to most organic systems as clovers take large quantities of nitrogen from the atmosphere and turn it into nitrogen fertiliser for crop growth.

What about livestock housing?

Organic livestock standards require:

  • generous space allocation for animals – can include lean-to’s or yards if stock have permanent access
  • maximum of 50 percent of house may be slatted
  • provision of comfortable bedding – for example straw, wood shavings/chip

Does straw for bedding have to be organic?

Ideally yes, but it is accepted that there simply is not enough organic straw available, so non-organic straw may be used.

Can I use non-organic feed if I do not have enough organic winter feed?

Up until 31 December 2007, yes. From 1 January 2008 all feed for ruminants must be fully organic, though a small allowance of second year conversion feed is allowed. For non-ruminants a small, but reducing, percentage of non-organic feed will be allowed until 31 December 2011

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