THE first products from the Organic Milk Group are now in shops and it is the culmination of years of work by farmers Gary Watson and Simon Elphinstone.
By: KAROLIN MACGREGOR
Source: The Weekly Times
With demand for organic products around the country growing, the suppliers say they can see significant potential for the organic dairy industry locally and are happy to spearhead the way.
Mr Watson runs his 300ha operation at Lileah with his partner Michelle Hanson and the farm was officially certified organic in September.
Mr Elphinstone and his wife Julie-Anne farm at Flowerdale and their property is in the conversion process, with full certification due in about 12 months’ time.
The families have joined forces to create their own organic milk range, which will be processed by Westhaven Dairy in Launceston.
The first products on the shelves are fresh milk but the range will be expanded down the track to include products such as yoghurt.
“When you look at other countries, we’re way behind,” Mr Watson said.
“I think the States is 5 per cent organic and we’re only 0.7 per cent or something like that, so there’s a lot of potential there. It’s wrong that there’s organic milk powder being bought in from Europe and New Zealand, when really we should be producing it ourselves.”
“People are becoming more conscious about where their food comes from and what they eat, so there will more and more demand, especially at that premium end.”
Mr Watson has been heading down the path to organic production on his property for several years.
Since removing chemical fertilisers from his system, Mr Watson said the changes to soils had been significant.
“There’s a lot more to it than just soil,” Mr Watson said.
“You think of soil as just being soil, but when you really start to learn about it there’s a lot to it and we’ve seen massive changes to our soil here. It’s just fluffier and lighter. It’s working.”
Mr Watson milks about 350 spring calving cows and has an autumn herd of about 120.
After changing from a beef operation, Mr Elphinstone said he was prompted to go down the organic route after seeing some negative impacts on animal health of conventional dairying systems.
Since going organic and seeing the positive changes in his soils, Mr Elphinstone said health across the herd had improved noticeably.
Both farmers use soil conditioners that promote microbial activity.
“With the cows, we’re just not having to treat them for a lot of issues, because they aren’t there anymore,” Mr Elphinstone said.
“We don’t have the mastitis we had, fertility is really good and we don’t really have any calving issues and we don’t really have any lameness,” he said.
Mr Watson said it was the same story in his operation.
“We used to have a lot of lameness years ago, but I think it’s like everything, it’s just a balance.
“If you start to get everything balanced right in the soil and the cows, then things just start to flow better. They are a lot more tolerant to things or otherwise there’s just not the bad bugs in the soil anymore.”
Mr Watson said since cutting urea out of the system, pastures across the farm now had good amounts of clover, which provides natural nitrogen fixation.
He said organic pastures were also higher in sugars, making them not only better for milk production but also less susceptible to insect attack.
Mr Elphinstone is currently milking 200 cows in a split calving herd. However, after recently purchasing more land, he hopes to increase this to about 250.
The families want to see how their products are received, but eventually hope to expand the business and that could mean taking on more suppliers.
“It is one of those chicken before the egg things,” Mr Elphinstone said. “Once there’s enough milk the markets will open up as well.”
OMG products are available in independent supermarkets across the state.
“Where we’ve priced the product we believe is a fair price for the consumer but it’s also a fair price for us as well,” Mr Elphinstone said. “We’re not going to get rich being organic farmers, that was never the intention. For me, it’s about something that’s sustainable long term and there might be a future in it for my kids if that’s what they choose to do.”