Return to the 'way farming used to be'

DIANE BISHOP
Last updated 06:32 19/11/2013
Neville and Marlene Parkinson.
Fairfax NZ

BACK TO THE FUTURE: Neville and Marlene Parkinson would like to see more farmers switch to organics.

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Organic farmer Neville Parkinson wants more farmers to embrace the organic way of life.

He believes there are a lot of "fence-sitters" - farmers who like the concept of organics but haven't been bold enough to make the move.

Neville describes organic farming as the "way farming used to be" before chemical inputs became the norm and farmers became addicted to using nitrogen.

"Going organic doesn't mean going cold turkey. There are still a lot of alternative products out there that you can use," he said.

Neville and wife Marlene made the move from conventional to organic farming on their 280ha Waimahaka sheep and beef farm in Southland eight years ago.

They were sick of the never-ending job of vaccinating their ewes and using chemicals to control insect pests on their crops.

"Our friends were getting more and more intensive with their operations but we wanted to scale back and not be so intensive," Neville said.

While the Parkinsons "believed in organics" they were concerned about the effect it would have on stock health. But, after attending a Southern Organic Group field day on Bruce Catto's farm, near Gore, they decided to make the move.

"The field day was the clincher. Both the stock and the property looked really good," Marlene said.

The Parkinsons phased out their Coopworth flock and moved to the hardier Texel-Romney, which was more suited to the organic system, and dropped ewe numbers from 3000 to about 1200 and started breeding their own ewe hogget replacements.

"It really has taken the pressure off over the winter. The stock perform better at a lower stocking rate," Neville said.

The Parkinsons typically achieve 140-per-cent-plus lambing from their ewes which receive minimal shepherding.

"We're not aiming for a huge lambing because it's a struggle to finish multiples."

They manage their surplus spring pasture by buying in up to 3000 store lambs from other organic farms, which they finish at 16kg to 17kg carcass weight and they are also killed through Canterbury Meat Packers.

Their organic lambs can net them another $20 a head premium above the schedule price.

The Parkinsons don't tail their single lambs but preferentially feed them to ensure they are off the farm early.

Their low stocking rate ensures there is less stress on stock, and animal health problems are minimised.

"Animal health is one of our main priorities. The lambs are only drenched once in March but we will drench them more if need be and they will be sold under the conventional system," Neville said.

They used to farm just a few cattle but now have more than 200 which not only spreads their financial risk but helps control worm burdens.

They source good quality angus steer calves which they finish before the first or second winter for CMP.

They switched to CMP several years ago when their meat company Alliance Group reduced the premium it paid for organic beef which left them out of pocket. After contacting CMP and establishing a market for organic beef, Neville and Waimate farmer Maurice Hellewell set up Organic Futures Aotearoa in 2009.

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The Organic Futures group now comprises 30 sheep and beef farms in the South Island which are committed to supplying organic beef, mainly hereford and angus, to the company year-round.

"We've had a great response. Everyone wants to see their beef go into an organic market," Neville said.

Organic beef is promoted as lean, tender and healthy as the animals graze pastures rich in herbs.

Neville and Maurie help co-ordinate the supply of cattle to CMP at a rate of about 100 a fortnight and the beef is exported to Singapore, the Middle East and Tahiti and it is also sold to supermarkets in Auckland and restaurants in Queenstown.

Organic Futures also supplies store stock to finishers and co- ordinates the supply of winter feed where necessary.

Neville makes all his own supplements and any surplus is sold into the organic market.

While they can't use conventional fertilisers to stimulate grass growth, they have found organic alternatives and use trace elements for soil health.

The Parkinsons also have 30 goats to aid weed control but admit gorse is a bit of a "bugbear".

- The Southland Times

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