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Organic methods changed farm and farmer
On-site worm farm provides compost for pasture
Twenty-two years’ dairy farming on the same land means Ged Goode knows his land and knows it well.
He started like so many New Zealand dairy farmers, as a sharemilker, working his way up to the ownership of his now 800 hectare farm, and 700-plus cows.
The decision to go organic happened eight years ago and now his property and his herd are fully certified. Ged has taken the organic theme and run with it.
Talking to him, his passion for organics, for doing the right thing for his land and animals comes through strongly. And he’s also passionate about the basics of organic farming and why more farmers should be embracing it.
“It really started with a comment from one of our daughters – Ariell – who was working in resource development with the Taupo council. She said: ‘Dad – if you don’t do something you will be legislated out of dairy farming’.
“We looked at what we could do to become truly sustainable into the future. Not just stopping effluent into streams but looking at the whole picture.”
At about the same time Fonterra was pushing its organic milk programme. Ged was already a Fonterra supplier and changed to an organic supplier for six years but is now a member of the Organic Milk Hub, along with 30 shareholders.
Organic Milk Hub
The hub is a brokerage for organic suppliers. Most of Ged’s milk goes to Green Valley Dairies, which specialises in organic milk production.
Ged says the financial gain is evident in the higher payout for organic milk, but the added bonus is along the way his mindset has changed – and he’s changed.
Now when looking at anything on the farm, it all relates back to the soil. He believes it has taken nearly eight years to detoxify, to get the chemicals, which were poured into the farm, out.
“Now we concentrate on getting the soil right. Each year we soil test one-third of the farm – a good in-depth soil test to see what is needed and what the carbon levels are like.
“Nothing goes into or onto the farm which is not organic.”
The farm has three hectares dedicated to a ‘worm farm’ to produce vermi-compost using waste wood fibre from the nearby Kinleith Mill. Ged is in a joint venture with MyNOKE, which isa leader in vermicomposting technology, organic resource management and supplier of organic fertiliser for agriculture and horticulture industries.
The Saturday before this interview Ged had spread four tons/ha of vermicompost onto several of his paddocks.
“Through soil tests we are able to understand what our soil needs. We are trying to balance the ground so it becomes a home for bacteria and fungi, which makes the perfect growing base for cow food – not only grass but a mix of chicory, dandelion, plantain, rye and clover and others the cows just love.”
A seed mix is spread over the top of paddocks each year and rolled in. There has been no nitrogen put on the farm for eight years but magnesium, sulphur, Reactive Phosphate Rock and sulphate of potash – all organic – is used.
In spring they spray the whole farm with molasses, which feeds the bacteria and produces a natural nitrogen, producing good plant growth.
“We use different methods of creating nutrients for the plants, methods which don’t leech out and into waterways.”
Ged estimates the cost of his milk production is similar to conventional dairy but the savings come in the way of animal health and, of course, the extra payout for organic milk.
“We just don’t spend money on animal health, we just don’t need to. Our cows are healthy on the organic lifestyle, part of the stress-less system.
Each year the farm is audited to ensure the organic standards are met and this year they also had an audit from Chinese milk buyers.
“They [Chinese] are very particular. They buy our organic milk via the milk hub and they want to ensure it is certified correctly. Coming to the farm to see how it works and to check our certification is just another positive for us.”
Another ‘organic’ process on the farm is the introduction of the use of semen from polled bulls.
CRV Ambreed is offering this semen after extensive research and development programme.
The company has been working on its polled genetics breeding programme in an effort to breed bulls with two copies of the polled gene, which will guarantee the bull’s progeny being born ‘polled’. This means they will not need to be disbudded, which can be an expensive exercise for farmers especially when there is a large number of cows in a herd. Ged says this is also a health and safety issue.
Along with the semen from the polled bulls, Ged is introducing sex-tested A2-A2 semen to begin the process of an organic A2 herd.
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