Producers road-test alternative

03 March 2017

For Queensland producers Miles and Penny Armstrong the choice to 'go organic' was logical.

The couple could see their production system at ‘Goondoola’, 90km south-east of St George, was already closely aligned with organic guidelines and that little extra outlay would be required to formalise their status and realise market premiums.

“At this stage we’ve got about 7,287ha of our 9,717ha certified fully organic, the remainder is ‘in-conversion’,” Miles said.

“The speed with which country can be converted is very much influenced by its use in the past. For example, our grazing country became organic first while some of the cropping country will take longer because of herbicide/pesticide use.

“We’re hoping to achieve full organic status within the next two years.”

The opportunity to capture organic beef premiums is still another 12 months away with their organic-certified weaners needing some time to grow to meet Japanese Ox market specifications (280kg carcase weight).

Starting out

Miles and Penny took the organic road after attending an MLA Donor Company and Australian Organic Meat project seminar designed to lift the volume of supply of organic beef that was held at Roma in 2014.

“We could see organic beef production as a viable option to improving our beef enterprise profitability from our existing production system while reducing overall risk," Miles said.

“The seminar really made us think it was achievable and provided us with the starting point.”

The couple agreed the biggest initial challenge was the paperwork and engaged a consultant, Organic Systems and Solutions, to help them get started.

“Their input in process as well as providing us with a broader understanding of organic farming principles relevant to our system was absolutely invaluable," Miles said.

All animals on Goondoola carry cross-referenced management tags and NLIS tags, recorded in an Excel spreadsheet, to ensure lifetime traceability and accurate records of any treatments.

Initially, Miles and Penny had to organise veterinary declarations for any vaccinations they used in their herd, such as 5-in-1 and 7-in-1. These were recorded on their organic input register.

Each year the enterprise is audited, which costs several thousand dollars, however, Miles believes this to be reasonable in the context.

Taking the road less travelled

Miles believes there is nothing like a severe drought to road-test a production system and the management system behind it.

“We’ve been drought-feeding on and off for almost three years,” Miles said.

“Prior to going organic, we supplemented with blocks and barley straw hay.

“Since becoming in-conversion, we’ve only been able to feed them our own organic grain stubble and mulga.”

He said the key benefit of becoming certified organic will be their ability to maintain cashflow while reducing stock numbers, enabling their property to recover faster and become more resilient to drought.

However, he sees another protracted drought as a key challenge for all organic production systems.

“Being able to source reliable supplies of organic supplementary feeds is a big concern – without them, producers may be forced to sell-off stock but, in our favour, these options are increasing in number and variety all the time,” he said.

Top tips

The Armstrongs’ top tips for making the organic transition smoother:

  • seek professional help and support
  • fully research organic alternatives for your system
  • keep good records from the beginning.

More information: Miles Armstrong E: armstrongmilo@gmail.com

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