Farm­ing for the fu­ture

Mi­lawa Or­ganic Beef is about more than mak­ing money

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

We need to make a smaller foot­print now, so there is still some­where to make a foot­print in a hun­dred years. ALAN WOOD, FOUNDER OF MI­LAWA OR­GANIC BEEF

“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.”

OR­GANIC FU­TURE: Alan and Leanne Wood run Mi­lawa Or­ganic Beef, and are pas­sion­ate about tak­ing care of the land for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

HIS­TORY IN THE MAK­ING: The ladies was won by Emma O’Shea (pic­tured cen­tre), who broke event his­tory by be­ing the only rider to win the event five years run­ning. The ju­nior event was won by Travis Bandy (right), with open win­ner John Mitchell pic­tured...

PHOTO: Jess Flem­ing.

DONE AND DUSTED: For the third con­sec­u­tive year, John Mitchell has taken out the pres­ti­gious Man from Snowy River Chal­lenge. Held last month, John is a lo­cal Cor­ry­ong rider, and has been com­pet­ing in the event since he was a ju­nior, as has his brother...

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