“I put in an order for 200 litres of apple cider vinegar from Highbank Farm in Kilkenny. I wanted organic for the ferments I make, and to feed to my cows.
“When I told them about what I was doing, Rod and Julie from Highbank arrived at 8am the next morning with the delivery.”
Two hundred litres might sound like a lot of certified organic produce, but it’s one of the few bills Tom Stack from Ballyagran has these days.
He farms 130 acres on the Limerick side of the Limerick-Cork border and was first inspired to start using ferments by Dan Kattridge’s lecture at a National Organic Training Skillnet (NOTS) soil biology conference, about Korean natural farming (KNF). In fact, he was so impressed that he went to the US for a seven-day intensive course with Chris Trump.
KNF is a bio-organic farming method which focuses on what are called indigenous microorganisms (IMOs), namely bacteria, fungi,
nematodes and protozoa. Four stages of preparations of IMOs, as well as a range of other fermented inputs, are involved in this farming method.
In the main, the boost to the land comes from a form of fermented liquid, IMO tea, sprayed onto the land.
The inputs and solutions are quite affordable, and can all be made by farmers themselves.
Proponents of the method claim that it reduces costs radically, and improves soil, and pig and poultry production can be odourless.
“I had 70 cows and had to go to 100 to remain viable, when I was conventional.
“It just seemed mad to me. I’d a young family, and was spending big on fertiliser and feed already.
”I wanted to start reducing costs. The soil biology conference in Tullamore one year ago, that changed my life, really.
“I started to cut back on the cow numbers.
“I’ve a Shorthorn bull now as well as a Friesian bull.
“I may bring in Moiled or Droimeann, these native breeds are dual-purpose, they bring strength and longevity as well as milk.
“My bills are tiny now, maybe €600 or €700 a year for the fermenting products.
“If I can run 60 cows on a few hundred euros of inputs, on 130 acres, why not do it? I’d over €12,000 of a fertiliser bill before I started on this, and a feed bill of €18,000 to €20,000. The drought really made me think about nature. You’d be spreading fertiliser during the day and watering at night.
“When I took over the farm in 2012, I was a conventional farmer, I was doing everything to the top end, spending €5,000 for an AI bill, bigger sheds, scrapers, it doesn’t really make sense to me anymore. What do you need a bigger tractor for?
“Now, it’s all smaller and simpler. I’m happy now, making my own inputs, and I can see the difference.
“That extra money I used to spend on feed and fertiliser, that’s mine.
“My litres are back a bit, but they are my litres.
“I’m getting about 4,500 litres per cow now. But the protein and butterfat is better, and that’s without buying in any feed or fertiliser.
“The main costs now are apple cider vinegar, cane brown sugar, and alcohol, for fermenting.
“My grass is more nutritious and the cows seem happier.
“They used to just walk, walk, walk. But now, after they’ve been milked, they seem a lot less stressed, they eat for 20 minutes, then lie down and chew the cud.
“To me, farming seems all about the middlemen these days. Some farmers are only living for their single farm payment, that can’t be it.
“We own our land, we never factor in our own time, there has to be more to farming than that.”
Tom Stack will be one of the speakers at an event on fermentation at the Highbank Organic Farm in Co Kilkenny, on Saturday, January 25, at 6.30pm.
Go to biabeag.com to book a place.