Supporting organic producers

Weather variations are posing challenges for all livestock producers, but for organic producers with typically lower yields and fewer alternatives available to buy it’s a further worry, says ForFarmers’ UK Organic and Grazing Commercial Manager Ben Trott.


“Organic systems generally produce around 90% of the yield that conventional systems do, so they need to make sure they have enough acreage to support their stock. It’s particularly difficult with the droughty conditions.” If it reaches the point where farms don’t produce enough finding replacement forage can be a real challenge, says Ben. “Unlike conventional producers who can consider forage extenders like SelcoPlus and Brewers Grains alternatives for organic producers are few and far between.

“It may be that there are niche alternatives, but that will depend on local opportunities and so definitely aren’t an option for everyone,” he stressed.

“The last resort of course is seeking derogation from the compliance bodies but that really is for emergency situations if you’re really struggling to feed your stock.” This can threaten the milk price, with some buyers only paying the conventional price in these situations even if all rules and constraints are followed.

Similarly, paperwork and recordkeeping is part of every farmer’s workload, but it can be a particularly onerous and important task for organic producers, says Ben.

“With the legal standards that 60% of forage needs to be homegrown and limits on how much concentrates can be fed, organic producers do need to keep a lot of records for their annual audit,” he says.

“The onus is very much on the farmer. They must demonstrate that they are complying with the rules – nothing is assumed – and it is awful if farmers have a mad panic getting their paperwork together for their audit.

“We want to help farmers avoid situations like that and the stress that it causes,” says Ben. The ForFarmers Organic Compliance Monitoring Programme takes away the burden and worry of the annual audits by keeping all feeding records on the farmer’s behalf, in the correct format required by their organic certification body. “The farmer still needs to have some input, but we oversee everything and ensure they have complete records when they are needed.”

For Ben and his colleagues this means that they coordinate the record keeping alongside diet formulation, costings and any other services they provide the farm.“It avoids a last minute rush in the run up to the audit and prevents a lot of stress.

Matthew Senior Organic herd cropped

Other stress-busting services the team provides include forage planning and advice. “I often recommend to my clients that we bring in the forage team which then involves looking at everything from the ground up.” Soil testing, advice on reseeding and varieties and grassland management are all part of the offer.

“Ideally we’re thinking 12 to 18 months ahead and considering a range of crops to meet all the standards required for your organic certification.” There are no issues with sourcing seed for organic forage crops. “Seed isn’t a problem, the problems arise when you’re trying to meet a shortfall and need to find organic crops to bolster homeproduced supplies.

“Therefore planning ahead really is critical. The variation in climate is not going away and will bring more challenges into the equation so we are advising customers to consider drought resistant crops and to scrutinise their crop rotations to improve resistance to weather patterns.”

While some customers are ahead of the curve and building more resilience into their businesses, a great deal are not, he says. “We are facing a challenging period economically and organic producers are really going to feel the squeeze. We are not seeing the premium for organic milk that we need – it’s 5ppl at best which probably doesn’t justify all the additional work and costs involved.

“The most profitable systems are the ones making absolute best from their forage and this will become even more important this year.”

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