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Farming futures - going organic
 

The Cholderton Estate gained full organic status in February 2003.

The Estate has always been managed in an environmentally friendly way, so going organic was not a difficult decision; in fact the organic option was first considered as much as 12 years ago. But it was pragmatic considerations that made the Estate’s owners take the leap into full organic production. They found that although their animals benefited from the highest welfare conditions and were among the finest livestock available, there was no premium in ‘conventional’ markets for this excellence. What finally tipped the scales was the fact that organic milk got a better price.

Cholderton was already well on track for going organic; crucially, it is a mixed farm, with both animals and crops – essential when manure is going to replace chemicals as fertiliser. The Estate had also been practising a fully monitored and recorded rotation scheme since its foundation in the 19th century, and the land was already properly fenced, as prescribed by organic regulations.

There have been instant changes as a result of going organic. Use of artificial fertilisers stopped at once (with a resultant immediate beneficial impact on the accounts), which meant stepping up such things as clover-rich leys to provide natural nutriments. The yields from these leys have out performed all expectations. All of the grain grown has to wait until its fourth year of conversion before it can be certified as fully organic, but this grain (rolled and milled on the Estate) can be fed to the Estate’s animals.

Every field now has its own stack of manure, which is applied once a year. The barns from which this is obtained are cleaned out mechanically, with the manure hauled out ready for stacking. The actual spreading is done with efficient machines purchased in Europe, and 30 or 40 acres (12–16ha) can be treated per day. This process is not especially labour intensive; more time is spent on muck spreading, but no time is now spent on spraying or fertilising.

The regime for cereal fields is that the muck is spread on the stubble, then a seedbed is worked down, but there is no seed dressing. The young crop – sprung from vigorous modern strains – grows quickly, ensuring that there is no competition from weeds. All crop yields have exceeded expectations. A new crop being considered is organic borage for the pharmaceutical industry.

So far as the animals are concerned, the gains are also significant. Worm problems have almost disappeared in both cattle and sheep, the animals appear much healthier, and their overall welfare is much better. One of the results of this has been a drop in vet bills. Meat yields are easily on a par with non-organic, and there are plans to open a farm shop selling the Estate’s products.

For the Cholderton Estate, the success of going organic has been far greater than anyone expected.

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