Pippa Hackett is no stranger to the world of agriculture, be it through her organic farming or her work as agricultural spokesperson for the Green Party.
Pippa and her husband Mark work on their 200 acre farm in Geashill, near Tullamore in Co. Offaly. Together they have 50 sucklers and 200 ewes.
“We became certified organic back in 2013. Luckily for us, we found the conversion process to be pretty straightforward; I guess we weren’t overly intensive beforehand so it wasn’t a major change,” explains Pippa to That’s Farming.
“We only would have used a bit of fertiliser anyway; we weren’t aggressive with it so it wasn’t much of an adjustment!”
Originally Pippa and Mark had Suffolk sheep, and the idea for going organic arrived at the same time as the idea to change to Romney sheep. The two decisions happened simultaneously as the pair found that the easy-lambing, hardy Romney breed was a great fit for organic after some research.
Cattle-wise, they have an Angus-Hereford cross at the moment. Previously, they reared Charolais cross cattle which take longer to finish, so they knew it simply wouldn’t work organically. Pippa finds that her Angus-Hereford cattle make great organic animals, since they calve easily, are good mothers, and are simply ‘suited for the job’.
Pippa grew up near Claremorris in Co. Mayo, but despite being in a very rural area, she didn’t grow up in a heavily agri-based atmosphere.
“I didn’t really farm when I was younger; I think the most I did was ride a pony when I was small,” she laughs. “Then we had a couple of ponies after that; but I wasn’t farming much at all.”
Her husband Mark was the main influence in beginning their farming journey, as he worked as a farmer himself. The two both studied agricultural science in university though, so the shared interest was there.
Since Pippa is the agricultural spokesperson for the Green Party, she knows that having her own organic farm is a great help to her role:
“There are many issues that affect all our farmers, whether they are conventional or organic, and I hope to engage with all farmers, do my best to highlight problems, suggest solutions, and keep family farming alive and sustainable in Ireland for many more generations to come.”
The fact that Pippa and Mark have four children, all between 5 and 13 years of age, means that running an environmentally friendly farm is extra important.
“We felt it was important to raise them with a consideration for their natural environment, and going organic was going to help us achieve that,” explains Pippa.
The lifestyle is also enjoyable for Pippa, who says that having her own vegetable garden and living off the land the way it was naturally presented is a great way to live.
“We already lived in quite an environmentally friendly way, so converting was a natural way for us to go. The subsidies were essential, however,” adds Pippa.
Their farm has also been used for Organic Knowledge Transfer farm walks organised by Teagasc. They’ve found that getting to talk to other people who are either in the process of conversion or already certified is a great help.
“For anyone thinking of going organic, I’d say the fact that you’re thinking about it is enough to mean you should go for it. If you’re already engaged with the idea, just keep researching it and speaking to other people.
“We went with the Organic Trust, and we found them so helpful. We could just ring when we had a technical question and it was great to have someone on their other end of the phone to help you.”
Without the help of the organic scheme run by the Department of Agriculture, converting would have been much more difficult for Pippa and Mark. Unfortunately, the scheme hasn’t been open since 2015, leaving many farmers waiting and unable to go organic with support.
Many farmers think that going organic is too scary a process, but Pippa thinks those kind of worries are unfounded as long as your farm is suitable at a basic level.
“Farmers might find it hard if they hear they have to reduce their stocking rate, especially if they’ve invested a lot of money into bigger parlours and herds, but it also means less expenses on fertiliser and things like that.
“People think they won’t be able to grow the grass, in particular. We’ve found that it works fine, and it makes you actually think about your doing more. You’re more engaged with the farming and you plan things out better because you have to. It also brings it back to the old farming way where you had no choice but to be sustainable, which I think is great.”
Prices are a mixed bag for Pippa and Mark. She does find that although organic often gets better prices, organic lamb is difficult to sell at a good price.
“It is very hard to sell lamb organically at the moment. We wouldn’t even really mind if we were getting the same prices as conventional lamb, but we’d just like to be able to start selling out meat more directly in the future.”
For Pippa and Mark, organic farming has been a good choice that suits their lifestyle; if you’re interested in converting make sure you check out Organic Trust or IOFGA for more information.
If you’re an organic farmer and you’d like to be featured, get in touch!