Otago farmer positive organics is better way

Glenn Mead.
Glenn Mead.
Having tried both conventional and organic farming, Otago sheep and beef farmer Glenn Mead is convinced organic is the way to go.

A fourth-generation farmer with 20 years' experience farming in Northland, Waikato, Wairarapa and Otago, Mr Mead is chairman of the Organic Dairy and Pastoral Group.

The group, originally known as the Organic Dairy Producers Group, was formed by dairy farmers who saw a need for support and leadership in the organic farming industry.

As the group evolved, it was decided to encourage members from the overall pastoral sector, hence the name change. It now boasts more than 200 members.

Mr Mead and his partner, Kate, farm a 260ha property between Lawrence and Clydevale that has been certified organic with BioGro since 2007.

It was while travelling overseas, including being in the UK during the foot and mouth outbreak, that he started thinking about organics and a better way to farm, he said.

After returning to New Zealand and working on the family farm for a few years, the couple decided it was their turn to farm independently.

They bought their property in 2005 with a view to going organic, and started the conversion process.

It was an involved process, but Mr Mead had previously completed a correspondence course in organic agriculture and a small business management course in organic farming.

Getting that prior knowledge, and talking to organic farmers, gave them an idea of what they were getting themselves into, he said.

They farmed about 1450 Wiltshire-cross ewes and usually about 50 cattle. Prices had come back a bit this year from last year's peak and there was a reluctance from both retailers and meat companies to have organic contracts too far above conventional at the moment, he said.

He had no regrets about turning organic, saying he was now certain that organics was a better way of farming for the producer and also better for consumers.

Keeping away from chemicals and knowing you were trying to be better stewards of the land was also important, he said.

Both production and financial performance had been slowly improving on the property, which did not rely on chemical inputs.

At the moment, the numbers involved in organic farming were ''relatively static'', with a few retiring and a few new conversions.

There was a large increase about late 2006-07 and numbers tended to increase when conventional schedules for meat and milk plummeted, he said.

His role as chairman of ODPG was varied and complex. It included working with other farmers to try to extract the best value from current export markets and open up new ones, talking to groups such as the Ministry for Primary Industries, meat companies and Fonterra, doing administrative work, and organising field days.

It was a very hands-on role, which could be time-consuming, but it provided ''such a good insight'' behind the industry and he could see the perspectives of all the different players, as well as the effects of legislation, particularly international, coming through.

It was an excellent insight into the future of farming in New Zealand and the global food supply.

Mr Mead saw a great future for New Zealand if it could realise its potential for developing high-value-output and low-cost-input sustainable agriculture. But he was concerned about ''unsustainable'' farming practices, such as genetic engineering, threatening that potential.

He believed a lot of current pastoral farming practices in New Zealand would become unacceptable to overseas markets in the future.

''As long as New Zealand farming follows the right path, we've got a very strong future,'' he said.

 

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