New Zealand has some of the most perfect conditions in the world for dairy farming. Plenty of wide open spaces, lush green grass and moderate temperatures. We are a nation of milk drinkers and in the year ending June 2014 New Zealand dairy companies processed 20.7 billion litres of milk.
Recently we wrote a blog post on what organic truly means. It means that what you are eating is in its purest form, no synthetic pesticides have been used, no antibiotics, no genetic modification. It also means organic farmers have to work harder to sustain the health of soils, ecosystems and stock.
Julia and I are huge advocates for organic products so were happy when Anchor introduced an organic milk to the market, which is available throughout New Zealand. The Anchor Organic milk is sourced from Manawatu farms, including the Flipp family farm in Te Oroua Downs. For the Flipp’s, dairy farming is in the family. Mark Flipp’s Dad started as a share milker before buying their Manawatu farm in 1980. The farm has expanded, from 109 ha in size and milking 180 Friesians in 1980, to 508 ha and 600 cows in 2015. Wow! Mark Flipp made the decision to turn his farm organic in the mid-2000s and became officially certified in 2010, at the same time as joining the Fonterra programme.
We were lucky enough to interview the Flipp family who answered all our questions on organic farming.
Flipp’s: We have chosen to farm organically to be self-sufficient and not rely on outside resources because we prefer to work with the ebbs and flows of the land and seasons to get the best results it can provide. I also like that organic farming feels closer to how NZers used to farm, say, 50 years ago – I like that traditional practice.
Can you tell us differences between the two from a general farming perspective? Through the organic process, what benefits from grass to glass are delivered to the consumer?
While I couldn’t tell you the differences first-hand between organic and intensive farming (because we have always farmed in a similar way using lower inputs before we became officially organic), organic means farming the property to what is it naturally capable of.
Day-to-day differences include things like weeding manually or using a machine to pluck them out from the paddocks, rather than using any sprays. When we say organic farming uses lower inputs, we mainly mean we have relatively lower livestock numbers compared to intensive farming. This is because organic farming means we’re more exposed to the elements and fluctuating seasons so need to lower risks by having smaller herd numbers.
Benefits to the consumer with organic products mainly comes from peace of mind to know that what you are consuming has been organically grown and produced.
How long does it take to become an organic certified farmer in New Zealand? Are the regulations and standards quite rigorous?
It takes three years to become organically certified with the government-owned regulation body AsureQuality. The regulations and standards are very rigorous, but nothing good comes from anything easy.
What would be your advice to a farmer considering switching to organic farming?
Anyone thinking of switching to organic farming requires a passion, a belief and patience. But we think it’s worth the hard work because of the feel-good factor, slightly higher financial benefits (although an intensive farmer might disagree).
Dairy farming has been in your family for years, what do you enjoy most about it?
I enjoy farming with nature, not trying to change her e.g. Harvesting surplus pasture in the spring to feed to the animals in winter and summer months, rather than using outside inputs to supplement those months or using irrigation.
What is something a lot of people don’t know about organic farming but should/would be interested to know?
A lot of people probably don’t know the big paper trail required with organic farming for auditing purposes. But it’s important it’s a rigorous process to become certified organic, as a key part of of Anchor Organic milk is that it’s verified and traceable and it’s good for consumers to know where their produce is coming from.
Thank you Flipp family!