Machinery dealer, Tom Shaw Farm Machinery of Co. Offaly decided to add extra interest to its latest open day by inviting the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) to explain the latest moves on Targeted Agriculture Modernization Schemes (TAMS 3) and the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS).
There were also representatives from the Irish Organic Association (IOA) along with the trade representatives from the various brands stocked by Tom Shaw.
Input costs push change
Organic farming is often considered a fringe activity with little bearing on the serious business of feeding the world, but that is changing rapidly with the jump in fertilizer prices.
To the smaller farmer, going organic can remove a large annual bill from the equation.
However it is not just a question of not bothering to fetch some bags of nitrogen (N) from the co-op, there is a whole change of approach and mindset required and to this end, the department requires applicants for the OFS to attend four days of training.
The OFS is there to support farmers as they transition to organic, because there is a period where yields are depressed but the produce does not attract the premium that organic produce attracts.
Another factor in easing transition is that the whole farm need not be included in the scheme. However, the whole of any one particular crop must be.
Parallel cropping, ie, having a mixture of conventional and organic wheat, for instance, on the same holding and sharing the same handling facilities, is not allowed.
It is this stipulation which leads to many farms going totally organic in one go, as they rely on just the one enterprise such as beef or dairy, although the latter doesn’t feature strongly in the scheme’s list of applicants.
Organic farming doubles in year
What cannot be denied is that the OFS has suddenly taken off with twice the number of applicants this year as there was last.
This growth rate is expected to continue and the department is satisfied that Ireland will meet the 25% of land area being organic by 2030 target set by the EU.
What this means for the machinery industry is unclear; however, it is the tillage sector that is likely to be affected the most as once the crop is in the ground and growing, the gate is usually kept closed until harvest time.
This could well explain the enthusiasm of established manufacturers to explore mechanical weeding techniques as a way of staying involved with the growing crop.
On the more side, the plow will still remain an essential tool, if not more so, in an organic world.
One trick they may have missed, so far, is that vegetables are often able to restore N levels and then mulched before incorporation.
The tillage machinery makers have so far concentrated on attempting this with discs and tines rather than flail mowers and plow.
Italian companies making such machines, and there are a good number of them, may soon have potential suiters knocking at the door.
Grassland machinery still needed for organic farming
On the grassland side, there will probably not be much change, other than the redundancy of spreaders and sprayers.
The grass will still need cutting and ensiling, although more attention to sward maintenance may lead to an increase in the use of light harrows or rakes.
Non nitrogen dependent crops will be lighter and the machinery may not need to be so heavy to deal with it, but this will take a while to trickle down to the buying decisions of farmers and contractors.
The TAMS 3 scheme is a known quantity and its workings are fairly well understood, but what still remains a little obscure is how it is decided just which items of machinery are to be included on the list.
Some light was thrown on this with mention of various bodies and groups making representations to the DAFM, but quite where, and with whom, the final decision is made remains shrouded in the clouds of bureaucratic smog.
Digital tech to the fore
What is clear is that ever more emphasis will be placed on digital technology with satellite-enabled implements, and digital systems that may be retrofitted to existing machinery, enjoying support from the government.
Tom Shaw holds a Deutz franchise and the German company has partnered with Topcon which provides the hardware for the tractors, although the software development is kept in-house.
Topcon auto-steering systems can be retrofitted to just about any farm machine so moving over to a fleet of satellite-linked tractors need not be a question of waiting for the fleet to update over time, it can be done now.
TAMS 3 is also directed towards encouraging the purchase of machinery that reduces the reliance on outside inputs.
It does not directly demand that all farms turn organic, but it does suggest that conventional farming should start to adopt a more self-reliant mindset.
Different schemes in TAMS 3
Machinery grants will also differ according to which particular scheme the farmer is working within; a wider range of grassland machinery is available to organic farmers than conventional farmers for instance; it is not a straightforward case of looking at a single list.
Away from the presentations given by the DAFM and the information available from the Irish Organic Association, there was an array of machines sold by Tom Shaw.
As an example of the new thinking that stock farmers turning organic might want to embrace, the well established Tanco Cleenafeed is a tractor-mounted unit that cleans and feeds beet, and beet is an easily grown and handled source of energy for ruminants in Ireland.
Beet is by no means a new crop, but sustainability is an idea that is rapidly gaining traction and capturing energy on farm to feed to stock is all part of reducing bought-in inputs, and it is small details like this that can help the transition .
Dealer day success
Tom Shaw Farm Machinery is not the largest dealer in Ireland, but it is a company that is thinking outside of the box by bringing speakers that are not immediately concerned with selling more machinery.
The farm machinery industry cannot isolate itself from the bigger picture and here the bigger government picture is just where legislation and targets are pushing agriculture, and the dealers are as caught up in that as anybody else.
Of course, open days can also be good for sales. As a result of its recent Deutz Driving Day it has already gained two tractor sales and Quail Machinery enjoyed exactly the same result from the event it held in Co. Louth.