NO one has the big picture more in focus than Milawa farmers, Leanne and Alan Wood.
Lots of producers talk about habitat, about doing what’s best for the earth, about sustainable living; but the Woods live by their beliefs.
Given half a chance, Alan will digress into talk of carbon offsets, melting ice caps and ecological footprints.
His devotion is beef, but his passion is the environment.
“Farming has to change, because the environment has to – farmers can’t keep doing what they are doing and expect their grandchildren to have a place to live,” Alan said.
Alan and Leanne run Milawa Organic Beef – their Angus breeding program is one of the most successful organic branding projects in Victoria.
Capitalising on the region’s growing reputation as a gourmet food hotspot, the Woods have been able to commercially validate their organic product.
“In October 2009, we commenced the process to become certified with Australian Organics,” Leanne said.
“After a three year in conversion process, we achieved full certification in December 2012.”
The Australian Certified Organic (ACO) certification means Milawa Organic Beef is able to command a premium price, at times up to 30 per cent more than non ACO endorsed meat.
“We had been going down the organic path for years,” Leanne said.
“But we weren’t necessarily interested in becoming Certified Organic – then we realised we basically were running the farm organically, so why not.”
To become recognised as an ACO producer is not quick, or cheap.
Initial property examinations, audits, soil tests and interviews are all part of the process before the first year is out, and the costs run at about $2000 per year.
Primary producers face a particularly arduous task, with strict on-going rules relating to every aspect of farm life; from the status of trucks carting cattle to the drenches used during the year.
“You can say what you like, but unless you have that ACO (or other organic body) certification, there is no guarantee you actually are an organic farmer,” Alan said.
“It assists in giving your product credibility.
“We want to do the right thing – there is no harm in letting people know that.”
Alan is passionate about regenerating the land, and loves to discuss soil biology; using deep rooted plants to get carbon back into the earth, annual versus perennial grasses, and the benefits of hydrogen peroxide as a natural wormer.
“This is about more than money,” he said.
The Woods sell their product at markets and online – as well as selling whole bodies to organic butchers.
Running around 100 breeding cows, the Woods use a rotational grazing system, resting paddocks for 25 days – Alan would like to rest them for 90 days but space restricts this.
Cows are calved down in spring.
“Because we haven’t received any good autumn rain yet, we will need to reduce our stock levels this autumn,” Alan said.
“Overstocking impacts the soil and the plant re-growth; it’s a bigger picture.”
When times are tough – like they are right now – the Woods look at ways to not only minimise the problem, but how to potentially market it as well.
“It’s been dry here this year,” Alan said.
“So there are lots of crickets and European wasps.”
“I would’ve liked to bring in meat chickens to help control the problem, and then process them to sell.”
Dismissing the idea – no poultry abattoirs are close enough – Alan nonetheless still spends hours researching ways to have chickens on his Milawa farm.
His enthusiasm and ongoing investigations are proof that he is thinking beyond his own lifetime.
“We need to make a smaller footprint now, so there is still somewhere to make a footprint in a hundred years,” he said.
“That’s what true organic farming is supposed to be about.”