Understand our system says organic grower

26 Feb, 2011 02:00 AM
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3
 
Ron Watkins.
Ron Watkins.

THIRD generation farmer and organic grower Ron Watkins wants nothing more than for conventional and GM growers to understand that organic cropping is part of a much larger and complex farming system and can't be reviewed in isolation.

Mr Watkins' organic farm works by vertical integration where one system won't function without the others and GM and its associated chemicals is against the law.

The farm has produced organic canola in the past but for now it's oats, wheat, barley and peas in the rotation.

Mr Watkins wouldn't talk about the yields produced on his farm nor the price premium he was rewarded for his grain but said he certainly wouldn't be able to brag at the local when it came to his yields.

The canola produced on his farm was certified organically grown and sold on the conventional market.

Other crops were grown to sustain hens, sheep and cattle on the farm and feed into the Japanese-certified organic oat market.

"People said it was impossible to grow canola without poison (chemical) but we proved that theory wrong," he said.

"We grew canola for seven or eight years without poison and people say you can't do it.

"We didn't have the highest yields, but yield is really only relative to what you actually get for the product and how much it cost you to put it in.

"When I hear about the amount of money some people spend on poisons my hair stands on end.

"And what happens if you get a frost?

"You don't get that money back whereas if we have a failure like we did one year, when red-legged earth mite took out a canola crop, it cost me time but the amount of money going out of the bank account was really not very big."

Mr Watkins said Australians had been square farming in a round world for far too long and the environment had suffered because of it.

Mr Watkins said his operation sat very easily with his family because they could direct market their products including vegetables, eggs, olives, beef, lamb, wool and grain.

"Why would I ever want to go chemical farming and why would I want GMs," he said.

"Our system has a whole diversity of things that need to be managed.

"It's a living system and one thing bounces off the other, if you take one thing out of the system the whole thing won't function as it should."

Mr Watkins said the biggest yield in any cropping system didn't necessarily mean it was the most profitable.

He said it was the quality of that product and the price paid by the market for that product.

"To be sustainable you have to incorporate diversity because where in nature do you find a monoculture," he said.

"For our broadacre cropping program we use soil testing, lime and gypsum, potassium sulphate, composts, our hens, rotational grazing, soil microbes, bird life, tree belts and the whole entire farm system to produce our crops.

"The whole thrust of organic farming is that I manage what I've got with minimal input."

Mr Watkins' crops produced half the yield this year than they usually would due to the lack of rain.

To sow his organic canola and other crops Mr Watkins chips the weeds with shallow ploughing and the sun does the killing for him.

He also moves his four chicken systems around the farm and the birds act to de-bug, mulch and fertilise the paddocks.

One chicken run can help fertilise and aerate up to five hectares a year.

With a big global demand for organic and GM-free grain products, Mr Watkins said there was no need to use his inability to export large quantities of grain overseas as ammunition against his farming system.

"GM growers maintain that Australian grain needs to feed the world and it's used as one of the biggest justifications for GMs in WA," he said.

"But how much of the world do we actually feed?

"Sixty per cent of the world's population is starving and they are not even in our market.

"It's because Australia doesn't produce food for nothing and if nations don't buy it from us then it won't be entering their market."

Mr Watkins said the idea of feeding the world was crazy because the argument should centre around grain distribution rather than quality

"It's not a matter of production, it's a distribution factor, we in the western world are too greedy, we want too much for what we produce," he said.

"Organics looks at production on an infinite time frame.

"We're not making millions but we enjoy producing food that we eat as well as providing it for others."

Mr Watkins said the lack of support from mainstream science was frustrating no matter what his organic canola cropping operation had been rewarding.

"Other growers call organic farmers backwards but it's their problem not mine because I consider myself a scientific kind of guy, I have a brain," he said.

"Think about where your farming system is taking you."

  • Farm Weekly grains writer BOBBIE HINKLEY spoke to a GM canola grower, a conventional grower and an organic grower to compare the three operations and to hear their thoughts on future plans for each system. Follow the three articles online this weekend over Friday February 25, Saturday 26 and Sunday 27.
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    READER COMMENTS

    trevor WA
    28/02/2011 8:30:45 AM, on Farm Weekly

    quality always before quantity. Rubbish is always rubbish. i'm not organic but i will support your right to be organic.
    Saturnmoon
    28/02/2011 10:45:14 AM, on Farm Weekly

    Ron Watkins needs to be congratulated for providing safe food for us to eat. He understands farming and the connection between all components of farming from animal management, crop rotations, pest and weed control. I only wished more farmers share this philosophy. Farming is not about making a quick buck at the expense of everybody else but for sustaining your family and community and leaving the place better than when you found it. GM is not the answer and I hope everybody wakes up before it is too late to reverse.
    defman
    28/02/2011 2:14:19 PM, on Farm Weekly

    Masanobu Fukuoka's Natural Farming. It's a no-dig, no-till farming method where all green wastes are thrown back onto the growing areas where you grow your plants, the wastes will breaks down into the soils and the soil-food-web-workers breaks everyting done into humus, colloidal states and thats when plants loves that, and they grow big and strong and healthy! And best of all, Rock Dust and Sea-90 provides all the minerals, trace-minerals, for your needs, no worries! So there you have it, mineral-dense quality foods grown in the Natural Farming method, simplicity itself. No bother with ploughing machines, etc. And I favour this idea too, an acre for each family to grow natural farming and the food will become abundant... imagine that! No more crippling high prices for worthless damaged foods that are grown in rubbish like GM and chemicals... they're disgusting to eat anyway, tastes bland like cardboard... ugh... no taste. Whereas Natural Farming is organic and grows tasty foods, fantastic! Just like our grandparents and great-grandparents used to have, full of minerals. Live foods makes people alive. Dead foods makes people addicted to sickness.

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