Willie Hough is a 28-year-old farmer who is branching out into fully-fledged organic farming. After working with his father on his home-farm of Tipperary, which he still helps with regularly, Willie now has his own farm in Westmeath.
After studying agriculture in Waterford IT, Willie decided to run his own purely organic farm. He has a 10-year lease, and unlike his family’s Tipperary farm with conventionally reared calves and ewes, Willie’s Westmeath farm is focused on producing organic beef.
Willie has been working for Bord Bia for the past five and a half years, but he’s been building up his organic farm simultaneously. He started the conversion process about a year and a half ago, and by next May he will be certified organic:
“I always liked the idea of organic farming, and the Organic Farming Scheme was a great help. It’s about €220 per hectare which on top of my Young Farmer’s payments makes things a lot easier.”
Since Willie joined the organic scheme, the Department of Agriculture had to close the application process due to an overflow of interest. There’s a waiting list at the moment for new applicants, and many farmers who are interested in organic hope they’ll get a chance to receive support just like Willie in the future.
“I’ve been buying organic cattle this year, and I hope to finish them in the summertime or at least by the end of next year. I have 55 at the moment, and they’re mostly Angus or Charolais. To be honest, I’m not too particular about what breed I choose as long as they’re organic.”
Purchasing on the organic scene has turned out to be a smoother process than Willie originally thought:
“I’ve found organic marts to be really good. There are a lot more cattle on offer at them than I thought there would be. There are about 7 or 8 marts on every 3 or 4 months around Ireland, and I’d travel to them in Roscommon, Tullamore, Newport; wherever I have to.”
He wants to bring his beef fully organic, mostly because the prices are incredibly different to the price that conventional beef is garnering:
“I’m actually paying the same for organic cows this year that I would be for normal cattle. I don’t really know how, but that’s how it is. Then organic beef can be €5.20 or €5.40 a kilogramme,” Willie tells That’s Farming.
The positives for Willie include the obvious price differences and the benefit to our environment. Trading is also something that he’s considered:
“I don’t think Brexit will affect organic farmers as much. Everyone’s very worried about beef after Brexit, but not many farmers are sending organic beef to Britain at the moment. We’ll still be able to export to them and other countries easily enough.”
There are tough parts of organic of course, and Willie recognises the issues.
“No spraying and no fertiliser is difficult, and the price of the meal is very high. I just can’t afford it, so I finish on grass. It’s an awful lot of money for organic meal,” says Willie. “But a lot of things that put people off organic aren't actually true. A lot of people I talk to say they won’t go organic because they can’t dose their cattle. That’s not true at all.”
“I dose my cattle regularly, and people are shocked when I tell them that. A lot more farmers should be going organic, in my opinion. Dosing isn’t a problem, and I can even treat cattle if they get sick with antibiotics. The only thing is, if you have to treat them a second time, you up the dosage and you’ll have to sell them on then. You can’t keep them as organic.”
In the future, Willie hopes to expand his herd from 55 to 100 cattle. This will happen for him in February or March if all goes well. We wish Willie the very best for the future on his organic farming journey!
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