Smooth steps

A lo­cal dairy pro­ces­sor is launch­ing an or­ganic range and one of its sup­pli­ers says the tran­si­tion process was eas­ier than many ex­pect. Karolin MacGregor re­ports

Tasmanian Country - - NEWS -

Dairy range launched

Tas­ma­nian or­ganic milk and cheese will soon be avail­able across the state, thanks to a new range from Ash­grove.

The com­pany has joined forces with two ded­i­cated or­ganic milk pro­duc­ers to in­tro­duce a range that will in­clude non-ho­mogenised milk and cheese.

The cheese is cur­rently ma­tur­ing phase,but the milk will be sold from to­day in in­de­pen­dent su­per­mar­kets and spe­cial­ist re­tail­ers across the state.

Paul Ben­nett from Ash­grove said in re­cent years a num­ber of farm­ers around the state had con­verted to or­ganic pro­duc­tion.

“We saw the op­por­tu­nity, there were a lot of farm­ers who have con­verted or are con­vert­ing into or­gan­ics and no one is pro­cess­ing the prod­ucts,” he said.

“It fits well with the Ash­grove brand to have an or­ganic pre­mium milk in the mar­ket place.

“We thought the farm­ers who have gone to that ef­fort de­serve a pre­mium on their milk,” Mr Ben­nett said.

“I guess we came to that po­si­tion be­cause there are a lot of com­pa­nies that have talked about it but no one has ac­tu­ally done it, so we thought we'd give those guys an op­tion.”

The Ash­grove fac­tory achieved or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion with the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Sus­tain­able Agriculture Australia in Au­gust. The farm­ers have been sup­ply­ing milk to Ash­grove for a few months and the com­pany col­lects about 5000 litres a day from them.

“Hope­fully that will grow as the mar­kets grow,” Mr Ben­nett said.

The com­pany is cur­rently sup­ply­ing some or­ganic on con­ver­sion cheese prod­ucts to Aldi but the fully or­ganic Ched­dar and a blue cheese will be avail­able in Tas­ma­nia next year.

Prices paid for the milk have been ne­go­ti­ated di­rectly with the farm­ers.

“Talk­ing to the or­ganic farm­ers we’re led to be­lieve it costs about 30 per cent more to pro­duce milk or­gan­i­cally, and they also don’t get as much pro­duc­tion as con­ven­tional farm­ers do,” Mr Ben­nett said.

As pro­duc­tion in­creases Mr Ben­nett may look at sup­ply­ing more into main­land mar­kets or even over­seas if the de­mand is there. This may also mean tak­ing on more or­ganic sup­pli­ers.

Mr Ben­nett is hope­ful de­mand will grow and they can take more on.

“We have had more talks with other peo­ple who are look­ing to con­vert.”

Ash­grove sup­pli­ers in­clude Ge­off and Coleen Atkin­son at Cuprona, whose oper­a­tion is cer­ti­fied or­ganic.

Mr Atkin­son said they were thrilled with the op­por­tu­nity.

“The whole thing has been ex­cel­lent,” he said prais­ing, good com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the pro­ces­sor.

“To have the op­por­tu­nity to sup­ply a com­pany like Ash­grove which is mak­ing pre­mium Tas­ma­nian prod­ucts is fan­tas­tic, it’s what we’ve been hop­ing for.”

The Atkin­sons milk year round and cur­rently have 80 cows in milk. To main­tain pro­duc­tion 12 months of the year they have three calv­ing pe­ri­ods in March, July and Novem­ber.

Mr Atkin­son be­came in­ter­ested in head­ing down the or­ganic path sev­eral years ago and said mak­ing the tran­si­tion was not as dif­fi­cult as many farm­ers imag­ine.

“Ba­si­cally, you just have to change the way you think about things a bit.

“There are a lot of prod­ucts out now that we can use, even for things like weed con­trol, which peo­ple think is a big is­sue.”

An im­por­tant part of the sys­tem is mak­ing sure ad­e­quate cow nu­tri­tion, in­clud­ing min­eral and vi­ta­min needs, is pro­vided. Min­imis­ing stress is also key.

“If the cows aren’t un­der stress and they’re get­ting ev­ery­thing they need you just don’t have that many prob­lems to start with,” Mr Atkin­son said.

Rather than just us­ing rye­grass, Mr Atkin­son said they pro­moted what he de­scribes as a salad mix in their pas­tures. This in­cludes sow­ing plants such as com­frey, chicory, plan­tain, lucerne, red and white clover in the mix.

As well as pro­vid­ing a good va­ri­ety for the cows, these pas­tures also help im­prove soil health and pro­mote good mi­cro­bial ac­tiv­ity.

Mr Atkin­son said they also used a

You have to change the way you think a bit. There are a lot of prod­ucts now or­ganic pro­duc­ers can use GE­OFF ATKIN­SON

range of ap­proved or­ganic prod­ucts which in­clude live bac­te­ria to help fuel pas­ture pro­duc­tion and en­sure es­sen­tial min­er­als are avail­able to the plants.

While there are lim­its on some an­i­mal-health treat­ments in or­ganic sys­tems, Mr Atkin­son said he would not com­pro­mise on this area.

“Cow health is my No.1 pri­or­ity,” he said. “If we have a prob­lem with a cow and the ho­moeo­pathic treat­ments aren’t work­ing I have ab­so­lutely no hes­i­ta­tion in treat­ing her with what­ever she needs, dry­ing her off and tak­ing her out of the herd. “I will not see an an­i­mal suf­fer.” Mr Atkin­son said he found ben­e­fit in seaweed sup­ple­ments to ma­nip­u­late the num­ber of heifer calves they breed.

He said sup­ple­ment­ing cows with seaweed for three weeks up to joining had re­sulted in a 85 per cent heifer calf rate across the herd.

Hay and silage for the oper­a­tion is cut off the prop­erty and Mr Atkin­son said in­ter­state sup­pli­ers sold or­ganic grain. How­ever, he hopes lo­cal grow­ers will be keen to sup­ply or­ganic ce­re­als.

With de­mand for prod­ucts in­creas­ing Mr Atkin­son sees a big fu­ture for or­ganic dairy in Tas­ma­nia.

“We’re pretty proud of what we’ve been able to achieve and I’ve had a fair few knock­ers over the years.

“I’m fairly pig-headed though and I think it just goes to show what you can do if you stick at it.”

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