Gavin Tully farms 38.2ha (95 acres) and has been a specialist organic tillage farmer since 2016. Gavin farms with his wife, Norma, along the banks of the river Bann in north county Wexford.

The soil types are acid brown earths and brown podzolics. He is farming well-drained mineral soils.

He grows maincrop potatoes, spring malting barley and oats, alongside combi crops such as a barley-pea mix, a wheat-bean mix and a pea-bean mix.

These are put through his mobile crusher roller and sold as organic feed.

Gavin is focused on and developing organic market outlets. In terms of biodiversity, around 10% of the farm is under woodlands and habitats.

Making the switch

On deciding to go into organics, Gavin explained that he had often thought about it, but had never taken the plunge, so in 2015 he decided to try 25 acres.

“I grew peas in it for the first year. Between all the different schemes at the time, the field was a couple of hundred euro in profit before the combine even went into it. When I harvested, €15,000 worth of peas came off 25 acres.

“I decided in 2016 to take the plunge, and we’ve been in it (organics) ever since. It’s a way of getting a guaranteed amount of money from your farm every year. This is the heartland of sprayers and spreaders. Before that, we were in mainstream tillage. I’m surrounded by it.”

He said that organic tillage farming is more stable than conventional: “You’ll never be a millionaire, but you’ll never be broke. It runs along nicely.”

Soil fertility and health

Gavin operates a plough-based establishment system, and his main focus is on improving soil health, as he cannot rely on artificial fertiliser to grow his crops.

Despite having not spread chemical fertiliser in eight years, the soil fertility has been maintained, and 46% of the farm is at the agronomic optimum for overall fertility status (soil pH >6.2 and phosphorus and potassium at Index =3).

For context, the national average is 18%.

Numerous measures have been taken to maintain the soil fertility. These include growing catch crops since 2015, importing organic manures, straw incorporation, rotational break cropping, soil sampling and developing a nutrient management plan.

Cover crops guarantee a good crop for the following year, Gavin believes.

He spread watery dairy sludge from Wexford Creamery and described it as “fantastic”.

His cover crop was then grazed by a neighbour’s sheep.

Nutrient management

When it comes to nutrient management in an organic farm business, the farmer must ensure that it is organic-approved and that they know the available nutrients.

Like all farms, a nutrient management plan is necessary. Organic farmers can put out 170kg organic nitrogen per hectare. Soil sample results indicate the maximum that can be spread.

There are plenty of options to choose from including dairy sludge, chopping straw, poultry pellets, slurry and farmyard manure.

Lime can also be applied to correct the soil’s pH.

Slurry and manure

Slurry spread on an organic farm must be from a non-intensive unit. This eliminates most pig farms and beef finishing units. However, slurry from beef and dairy farms, is permitted.

Speaking from experience, Gavin told farmers in attendance that it’s important not to get carried away when it comes to spreading slurry.

“With slurry especially, it is important not to get carried away. Little and often.

“Don’t go out with 3,000 gallons to the acre, because all you’re going to do is push on weeds. Nitrogen availability is one thing, but you don’t want to feed the wrong plant.”

John Mahon of Teagasc explained the importance of knowing the nutrient value of the slurry being used and demonstrated the use of a slurry hydrometer, which can be bought by farmers to test for dry matter content.

Gavin Tully’s spring barley and beans in Camolin, Co Wexford.

Poultry manure pellets have been described as a game-changer for stockless tillage farms that don’t have access to slurry or dairy sludge. They are comparable to 18-6-12 fertiliser, with 18 units of available nitrogen per tonne.

The pellets can be spread with a fertiliser spreader and Gavin uses them mostly on potatoes at two bags to the acre.


While he grows a small number of potatoes, Gavin explained that he was always naturally drawn to the animal feed market.

He was in the feed business before he went organic, and that pointed out demand for organic feed is increasing year on year.

Combi crops

He has been growing organic malting barley for five years for Boortmalt. This grain goes to Waterford Distillery to produce whiskey. However, he has no malting barley this year.

He said that “the combi crop is the main one. The whole farm is covered in some sort of a combi crop this year, and it is stored and treated here.

“We don’t have drying facilities yet. It is rolled, bagged or sold in bulk. I can get a bag delivered for €80 anywhere in the country; it’s €100 for Donegal and Kerry.

“So that’s where most of the stuff goes. I’m happy at the livestock market”.

Weed control

Gavin described the weed control as “erratic at best” and said that he has learned to “up the seeding rate and leave them alone”.

When asked about weed control and whether he uses a scratch harrow, Gavin was quick to say that “the scratch harrow gives peace of mind for one day. It doesn’t make a difference, I don’t believe. I have never seen a great benefit from scratch harrowing”.

On having weeds, he said: “I leave them alone in a lot of cases. You get used to it after a while. There’s only so much you can do.”

Teagasc researcher on legumes in Oak Park, Sheila Alves, pointed out that an added advantage of intercropping is that both crops are competing with the weeds, and that not having enough canopy to cover the ground and suppress weeds makes them more difficult to manage.

Intercropping and rotations

Rotations are very much what is needed at the time as Gavin farms to the markets.

“I haven’t seen any disease problems. There is one field that has had either peas or beans in it for the last four years with a different cereal each time just to give it a bit of help, but I haven’t seen any problems with disease or chocolate spot.

“Some years we get chocolate spot, other years we don’t.”

It was observed that with the combined crop, diseases of faba beans are decreased and that there appears to be less notching from bean weevil in comparison to monoculture.

Answering a question on whether he noticed a better yield when faba beans and barley or faba beans and wheat are sown together give a better yield, Gavin said that “the yield of having the two mixed together has greatly increased from a single crop”.

Teagasc research shows that intercropping of peas and faba beans can be used to increase the standability of the pea and reduce lodging.

However, the variety compatibility and synchrony of growth must be considered.

The advice is to choose a fast faba bean and a later pea so that they mature at the same time.

According to Teagasc, a three-way mix of oats, barley and peas is very popular on organic farms.

Acknowledging the difficult spring, Gavin said that it was a challenge and that he is “lucky to have seeds in the ground”.

Concluding, Gavin admitted that “we have made a lot of mistakes over the years, but I can safely say we are kind of getting on top of it now.”

  • Gavin is growing crops according to where the best market is.
  • He has learned to live with weeds in crops.
  • He tries to establish crops quickly to cover ground to control weeds.
  • He does not apply slurry at a rate higher than 3,000 gallons/ac.