How a dairy made a two-year transition to organic farming


This year marked a turning point for the Lywood family as they sold their first liters of organic milk from Marshalls Farm in West Sussex, after a two-year conversion period.

For Kate Lywood, her husband Jeremy Way and her father Roger, it marked both an end and a beginning: the conversion period was over, and the price of organic milk started – 38.23 pence / liter against 27, 72 pence / liter the previous June.

But for the family, organic farming has never been the price of milk higher.

See also: How and Why a Shropshire Beef Farmer Goes Organic

“This allows us to take care of the farm as we wish, take the pressure off the cows, with a lower stocking rate, and provide a good working environment for our staff,” she says.

Several factors prompted the family to consider organic farming as an alternative: Jeremy, who was CEO of an education project, decided to return to the farm and immediately found a love for all things health-related. soils and plants. He also came with a “business brain,” she adds.

Farm facts

  • 384 ha (859 acres) cultivated
  • Mixed breeds of Frisian, Norwegian red and jersey crosses
  • Production of 5,800 liters at 4.36% fat and 3.54% protein
  • Block spring calving over 10 weeks from February to mid-April
  • By 2022 there will be approximately 336 cows in the herd

At the same time, their milk buyer, Arla, was encouraging members to convert to organic, offering the price of organic milk for the last six months of conversion once the herd was fed organic.

“When we thought about the drivers of our business – cow health, soil health, profitability – we started dabbling with the idea of ​​organic,” says Lywood. They decided to convert to organic in June 2019.

Make the change – requirements

The two-year conversion period was difficult as the fixed costs remained similar, but they had to reduce the stocking rate from 2.5 cows per hectare to 1.6 cows.

It also coincided with two very dry springs and summers in West Sussex – at one point the pasture rotation had to be halted for an extended period and the cows were fed silage on a staging area.

“The financial pain of converting is real, but it’s the trade-off when developing something that won’t show results immediately,” Ms. Lywood concedes.

Another requirement before going organic was that they reduced their annual fertilizer use from 200 kg / ha of nitrogen to zero.

To achieve this and cope with climate change, the company had to become better at growing grass and forage crops.

This year, a small amount of drought tolerant alfalfa was established. Reseeding is guided by soil sampling.

They also place great emphasis on selecting grass varieties that will suit their farm and are now trying herbal mixes.

They are also not allowed to use chemicals to control pests or diseases.

The most difficult pests to conquer without chemical control have been the cabbage flea beetle and white moth in brassica crops and wasps in grass seeds.

“We had a seed where you could practically draw a line in the field where there had been a leather wasp infestation, but as soon as conditions allowed, we drilled again and it worked,” says Lywood.

The Lywoods were making good progress in reducing antibiotic use at dry-off, with 95% of the herd treated with a teat sealer only before going organic. But now 100% of the herd only receives teat sealer.

Additionally, veterinarian and drug use has been reduced by weighing cattle more regularly and using the faecal egg count to inform deworming decisions.

How they reduced their dependence on imported food

Reseeding and growing high protein crops are priorities to reduce inputs of organic concentrate feeds costing up to £ 405 / t.

Currently, 1.2 t of concentrates are fed per cow per year, with an average milk production of 5,800 liters per cow per year, compared to 6,500 liters when they were conventional.

But the aim is to reduce the concentrated feed to 1 t per cow per year, while maintaining yields by feeding more local proteins.

This will include improving the quality of silage and grass by doing more reseeding and refining their pasture management.

Carbon reduction

Arla recently announced strict new standards for its organic farmers.

Arla’s organic farmers are expected to reduce their carbon dioxide equivalent emissions / kg of milk by 30% by 2028, two years ahead of Arla’s broader milk target of 2030.

Farmers are expected to have started implementing solutions to meet 100% renewable energy needs by January 2022.

But Ms. Lywood is out of step with the changes. She says:

‘Arla is now asking more of its organic members, but overall whether organic or non-organic I believe all UK farmers will need to adhere to stricter standards set by their milk buyer to meet climate targets . As farmers, we need to build that into our business model.

Although the company receives a higher milk price, production costs are also higher in organic, but organic farming is the direction they believe in for their business.

“It will take three years from the full conversion until we are fully operating without an overdraft, but it’s nice to look at the financial forecast and see us come out of the pain of two years of conversion,” says Lywood.

Advice from organic farmers and producers to switch from conventional to organic

  • Are the farm and the system suitable for organic farming? An organic dairy business will need sufficient area not to exceed 1.5 to 1.7 livestock units / ha
  • Talk to milk buyers and make sure an organic contract will be available at the end of the conversion period
  • Take into account the specifics of herd management and the timing of the conversion. For example, look at the forage production schedules to make sure there is enough organic forage – it doesn’t make sense to start a conversion in August if the forage is cut in June, as it will still be in conversion. when the herd starts producing organic milk.
  • Consider how reducing dependence on anthelmintics and antibiotics will impact herd health, as prophylactic treatments, such as dry cow blanket therapy, are not allowed in organic milk production. The conversion allows to settle in what is required of organic and allows a reduction in the use of these products


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