Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.
Top of the crops - and the silage is organic!
Pedigree dairy and sheep farmer John Jamieson has adopted the principles of organic farming. Winning a silage competition against opposition from across the UK is an accolade - but the victory is even greater when the crop has been produced on an organic farm.
Pedigree dairy farmer John Jamieson began converting his 680-acre farm Upper Locharwoods, Ruthwell near Dumfries six years ago. And this autumn he entered his first silage competition - organised by AgriScot and John Watson Seeds - beating competition from conventional farms in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with his organic clamp silage.
The Jamieson family has farmed Upper Locharwoods for just over 50 years and it is now farmed by John and his wife Helen, assisted by Holstein enthusiasts daughters Emma, 19, who is studying law at Glasgow University, and Hannah, 18, who is in catering management, along with son Graham, 14, who is still at school, who are all members of the Border and Lakeland Holstein Young Breeders Club. Emma recently won the Wolfa trophy for showmanship at the All Breeds All Britain Calf Show at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.
While the farmland's organic conversion took place a number of years ago, the Jamiesons decided to assess the demand for organic milk and dairy products before converting the cows.
The pedigree Firth herd of 140 milkers, based on PI bloodlines, was converted
in July 2003. With reduced inputs of fertiliser, good herd health - and rising
yields, John Jamieson is well pleased with the decision to farm organically.
" We could revert to a conventional system overnight but if I decided to stop I would still adopt a lot of the principles of organic farming," said John. "In the past we fed the crops now we manage the soil and the soil feeds the crops. " Since June 2003, sales for Scottish organic milk and milk products have risen by 160 per cent from 2.7 million to 7.2 million litres. Unlike conventional supplies, the price of organic milk sold through our association has stayed level at 29.5p per litre for over five years. The co-operative believes that there is no incentive in reducing the price of the milk to increase sales."
He is one of 24 organic farmers in Scotland who form the Scottish Organic Milk Producers' Association which has been so successful that they now employ their own marketing manager. Milk is processed through Grahams and Wiseman dairies supplying supermarkets with liquid milk and processors of Scottish yoghurt and cheese makers. Such is the commitment to the organic system that all 24 farmers have stayed with the organisation since its inception five years ago. The group is very focused, says John, and it regularly holds meetings and farm walks to discuss members' experience of the positive and negative aspects of organic milk production.
The Jamiesons have made their organic conversion through the Scottish Organic Producers Association. "It means using no man made fertilisers or sprays from day one as well as using GM free feeds but it's not as scary as you would imagine," said John. "We were never heavy feeders in the past or guilty of using a lot of fertilisers so it was easier for us to convert and this was one of the reasons I was attracted to organic farming. "We also used clover in our mixtures prior to conversion which was a big advantage. The first two years of conversion are usually the hardest if you don't have a large percentage of clover in your swards. "I had also experimented with reducing nitrogen applications prior to conversion with surprising results. It's not something that you decide to do overnight - I probably took a year considering whether to go organic and I haven't regretted making the change."
The Jamiesons' land is fertile running on the north of the Solway Firth. It includes 120 acres of SSSI and raised peat bog managed under the Rural Stewardship Scheme which requires minimal grazing. Since going organic the grassland rotation with 240 acres of cereals - 100 acres of triticale and 140 acres of spring barley for home rations and organic sales along with fodder beet - has improved with more acres of grassland being taken out each year and replaced with clover rich swards, each field being re-seeded when needed, probably every four to five years. The re-seed mixture of short and medium term ryegrass leys contains up to 12.5 per cent clover seeds. Slow release potash and phosphate are applied to grassland when needed and slurry is applied to silage ground up until March. No silage additives have been used for the last five years.
The Jamiesons' winning clamp silage was cut on May 26, allowing the crop to mature because of the clover content. It analysed at 27.2 dry matter, 18.3 crude protein, 79 D value and 12.7ME. Continued on page 31 The absence of nitrogen fertiliser resulted in the silage ammonia level being low at only 2. The crop was cut with a mower conditioner and wilted in rows for 24 to 36 hours and then picked up with a self-propelled precision chop harvester, the chop length not too short to aid rumen digestion. The silage was judged on a points system based on analysis as well as the visual appearance of a sample judged by David Yates, of Meikle Firthhead, Castle Douglas.
The first cut silage has been fed since October 1. Through a feeder wagon, the early lactation group is fed a ration for maintenance plus 32 kg of 42kg of silage, 5kg crimped grain (triticale), 5kg fodder beet and 4kg of an 18 per cent protein organic concentrate. Additional concentrates are fed to yield in the parlour at twice daily milking through a computerised automatic identification system.
The pedigree Holsteins are milking well off the silage, maintaining yields at 9,124kg a cow at 3.88 per cent butterfat and 3.14 per cent protein. The Firth herd is virtually closed with the only addition being the odd elite maiden heifer to introduce new blood lines - having a closed herd aids conversion with the Scottish Organic Producers Association encouraging the purchase of stock direct from organic sources. Past winners of the Scottish and Border and Lakeland Holstein Clubs herd contests, females from the herd are sold privately and through production sales in Carlisle usually every five years with breeding bulls sold privately throughout the year.
The farm also carries a self-contained flock of 120 pedigree Lleyn sheep which also suit the organic system. "I like the challenge of organic farming but you have not got to be afraid of change. It is a niche market and there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding organic farming," said John. "Our contractors I and M Findlay, of Mouswald, always compliment us on how good our crops are. We have more than maintained our milk production with less inputs. Our grassland management is better now than it was in the past because of the rotations and the reliance on quality swards. "In the future more sustainable farming systems are needed which will more than comply with de-coupling requirements."