Growth brings more potential for organic dairy

PHOTO: Dr John Paull of UTAS talks organics at the Tasmanian Organic Network information evening

It has been well reported that the growing Chinese middle class is boosting demand for organic dairy products, especially those originating in quality-assured markets such as Australia.

That boost is being felt close to home too, with more dairy producers in the Cradle Coast region making the switch to organic production and realising the benefits in both sales and sustainable land management outcomes.

According to Peter Hastie of Australian Certified Organic, Australia’s largest certification body, the biggest growth in recent times of organic certification in Tasmania has been in the dairy and horticultural sectors, with farms recently converting to supply a number of different processors destined for both the domestic and export markets.  The state now has 72 organically certified farms across a variety of primary production sectors, totalling an area of 4,769 ha of organically managed land.

At a recent meeting of the Tamanian Organic Network in Burnie, the group heard of the growing pains associated with a rising interest in organic dairy, not least in the production of organically certified grain for stock feed.
“Most organic grain production in Tasmania is specialty grains for human consumption,” said Peter. “It makes economic sense to maximise returns from the production of these grains by diverting rejected milling grains into stockfeed.” 
But, as Peter outlined, many either lack the continuity of supply, minimal volumes or the right nutritional specifications suitable for dairy production. 

“Not having access to good quality stockfeed locally makes balancing cost and production a major challenge for Tasmanian organic dairy farmers.  Organic dairy farmers looking to source certified stock feed are often subject to higher prices for mainland imports.”

“Even if a portion of the total stock feed requirements were grown here, it would potentially provide substantial benefits to dairy producers’ bottom lines, not to mention the potential financial and environmental benefits an organic farming system could provide to a farming family,” said Peter. 

“There are many myths surrounding the wider organic industry, organic production management systems and the price of achieving organic certification. It may be surprising to some how close they are to achieving organic certification and accessing organic markets. Our job is to dispel these myths with education and connectivity,” said Peter.

Organic certification can be achieved across the whole farm or staged across parts of the farm once there’s evidence of 36 months of continuous organic management practices. This time frame can be potentially fast tracked if previous organic management can be demonstrated. The best case scenario would be to see a minimum of one year in conversion, giving the producer access to full certification at the end of that first year. 

Peter predicts a strong growth in Tasmanian organic dairy supply, likening Tasmania’s trend to where Victoria was four or five years ago.

“The estimated demand for organic milk from Australian sources continues to grow despite significant efforts in securing supply on the mainland. We are now looking at approximately 130 million litres demand going forward, and of this there is the potential for at least 50 million litres to be sourced from Tasmania,” said Peter.

Help is available to Cradle Coast farmers to disassemble their traditional tool box of farm practices and reassemble them within organic guidelines.

“It’s not as costly, time consuming or revolutionary as people think and the potential rewards from growing organic stock feed cereals and leguminous fodder crops particularly when used as a break crop in a vegetable rotation system is significant.”

To register interest in the Tasmanian Organic Network or find out more about the organic certification process, contact Peter Hastie on 0402 069 354.

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