31 July 2019
Best in class

Irish organic farming student wins top prize

31 July 2019
HAWL bursaries

Bursaries offered for three-day homoeopathy courses



21 March 2019
In adversity, what are farmers doing to be more resilient?

Opportunities, barriers and constraints in organic techniques helping to improve the sustainability of conventional farming

M1: Changing organic feed regulations – principles or pragmatism?

Chair: Bruce Pearce (ORC)

This session will explore the drivers behind recent and planned retrospective changes to the EU Regulations and to question the motives of policy makers.

Session summary

Mike Colley, giving the farmers perspective, tells us that there are 3 things of importance when considering feed; availability, cost and quality. Modern hybrid birds are very unforgiving if the diet is wrong. He and his team are working on breeding a bird that can thrive in an organic system. He tells us we should be aiming for a feed conversion ratio of 3kg feed to produce 1kg of bird, where as conventionally this is more like 1.6 kg of feed to produce 1kg of bird, does this give us room to manoeuvre.

The Team at Hi Peak agree that we need to use the right bird and say that feeding 100% organic feed will not work unless the whole system is organic, we need to stop thinking conventionally and ‘knocking a bit off’ as it’s organic. Peter Griffin, Nutritional Team Leader for Hi Peak, tells us they have been working on 100% organic feeds for 6 years and as a result can produce it. He has worked out the price difference to be less than £4/t (please see his presentation). He says that the ingredients are there but as there is no demand no one will ship them in, or grow them. Other feed mills say they can’t formulate 100% organic diets but this is simply because they don’t have the bin capacity to hold enough ingredients. An interesting point is taken from the floor – people struggle with 100% organic diets with young birds, this is (when raised conventionally but with organic veterinary and feed standards) before they are allowed onto the range; if they could access the range how different would this story be? Anybody who has anything to do with poultry knows the birds will get something from the range yet we do not include it in ration formulations. Quantifying range contribution is extremely difficult to do as it changes from season to season and holding to holding. Again it is an excuse, the dairy industry manages perfectly well.

Robin Fransella tells us the derogation for feed and pullets has been extended by the European Commission to Dec 2014, this date has been selected more for housekeeping issues than anything else – they are busy with other things until then. An unanswered question from the floor is posed – Should the UK stand alone? It is mentioned that the other organic livestock sectors are 100% organic and they are worried that if consumers find out pig and poultry feed is not, confidence in organics will be knocked.

Discussion points:

  • ‘Not moving to 100% organic is neither principled nor pragmatic’ said Peter Melchett from the floor.
  • The modern hybrid bird is very unforgiving of an unbalanced diet, the correct bird must be used.
  • We must stop thinking conventionally when farming organically, simply using organic feed won’t work unless the whole system is organic.
  • Proper markers for the move to 100% organic feeds in 2015 must be mapped out now.
  • 100% Organic diets are not prohibitively more expensive than 95%

Action point:

  • Proper markers for the move to 100% organic feeds in 2015 must be mapped out now to make sure we are ready by 2015.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Robin Fransella (Organic Team, Defra): An update on recent developments at the EU Standing Committee on Organic Farming (PDF 310KB)
Ensuring high animal welfare and consumer confidence in this and other organic principles are the aims of Defra regarding organic livestock issues. The Europe-wide expression by the organic movement that there are insufficient supplies of organic materials has led the Commission to propose extending the current 5% allowance. This is widely supported in Europe due to concern that there are insufficient protein inputs available. A non time-limited inclusion of 1% organically unavailable minor ingredients and regional sourcing of a minimum 20% are also proposed. Defra proposed the use of amino acids to enable moving to a fully organic monogastric diet, as is the case in the US; however this was not supported by Member States. Defra also proposed assessment of the organic feed situation by the Expert Group for Technical Advice on Organic Production, the Commission now agrees.

Peter Griffin, Mike Burrows (HiPeak): Implications of recent changes for feed cost/supply (424KB)
Organic standards within the monogastric sector need to be driven forward in order to generate a blue print for sustainable organic farming systems. Recent changes in EU regulations have meant a delay to this progression. Feasibility of fully organic monogastric diet-formulation can be achieved if a realistic view is taken on formulation and production expectations within the organic system. Key drivers to achieve this goal are based on a better understanding of raw material availability and their use in organic formulations, breed selection, environment, and management. At present there is a misconception that the cost implication of committing to 100% organic diets will be too severe for producers to cope during these difficult times, this simply is not true. If we look at the feed solely, the actual cost ranges from zero to £5/t without any loss in production. We need to remember that feed is intended to ensure quality of production rather than maximising production while meeting the nutritional requirements of the livestock at various stages of development.

Mike Colley (FAI): A poultry farmer’s view (PDF 726KB)
100% organic is good for the producer? The Food Animal Initiative, FAI, was born out of concern for the responsible use of the Earth’s finite resources and how Farm Animal Welfare focused on economics and consumer pressure rather than needs of the animals themselves. We farm close to 1500 acres around the flood plain of the Thames on the western outskirts of Oxford. As a mixed farm we have some land given over to cereals and fodder crops, as well as rich pasture used for grazing. The poultry operation is currently focused on the welfare of broilers and the parents of these birds. We are particularly interested in mobility in the broiler; the need to restrict feed the parent and the use of alternatives to soya and grain. Organic feed affects the producer in three main areas - availability, cost and quality. In commercial poultry production, ration flexibility is very limited. The modern hybrid is very unforgiving of variations in its diet, which may lead to poor yield, vice and physical abnormalities. It is vital that we build strong working relationships with our nutritionists based on openness and trust.