Dominic Leonard is someone who has been farming organically for far longer than ‘organic farming’ has been considered normal.
Back in 2001, Dominic was asked to move from Dublin down to a farmland outside Durrow in Co. Laois. His uncle wanted to retire, and asked him would he take over his farm. Dominic took the plunge and began his organic farming career.
“I’d had the idea of organic in my head when I came down to Laois; I was always interested in organic and environmental issues, so I started converting straight away,” Dominic told That’s Farming.
He has a great mix on his farm; 30 suckler cows, 150 ewes, 48 acres of tillage, 2 sows, 25 hens, an orchard (and a partridge in a pear tree! Just kidding).
All of it is organic right now, but the conversion process was slow: “I started changing gradually, after starting in 2001. I’m fairly happy with it. I think it’s more satisfying than normal farming, to be honest.”
“You feel like you’re not relying on additives all the time; you’re using what you have. I think it is a bit easier for me though, since I grow my own feed. Being an organic tillage farmer is particularly rare nowadays, so we have a bit of an advantage.”
Dominic found the hardest part of converting was the tillage side of it. It was difficult to figure out what to grow, what works well as an organic crop, and what can be strong against weeds:
“Since we’re not spraying, we needed to figure out what crop was best,” explains Dominic.
He grows a combi-crop, which is a mixture of grain and peas. He has barley and peas, wheat and peas, and oats and peas. He even supplies Flahavan’s with his oats! With regards his cattle, he has Simmental cows at the moment, which mate with an Angus bull. He also uses AI.
There are tough bits to organic farming as well as positives, though.
“It’s hard sometimes, because there’s no quick solution and you need to have a lot of forward planning. Say you have a problem like you’re low on grass. You can’t just run outside with a bag of fertiliser! The market is a bit of a problem too. There aren’t enough processors, I believe. It’s a bit of a ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg’ scenario though. The processors say there aren’t enough products!” explains Dominic.
Nowadays, it is harder to get into organic farming, admits Dominic. “15 years ago, it was a bit of a weird thing to do,” he says. “But back then, you could kind of get into organic farming willy-nilly. Now it’s much harder. I’m surprised more farmers, particularly tillage farmers, aren’t going organic though. Considering the prices for regular tillage produce, you would think many more would convert.”
Dominic is positive for the future of organic, however. He thinks it’s amazing how far it’s come, and how mainstream it’s gotten.
If you’re an organic farmer and would like to talk to us about your farm, get in touch!