Mike Moss is reaping the financial rewards after he switched to organic farming. Diane Bishop reports.
When Raglan dairy farmer Mike Moss switched to organics 13 years ago his neighbours thought he was nuts.
But, he's having the last laugh.
Moss is milking fewer cows, working less and making a lot more money at Koraha Farm.
If you think Fonterra's payout this season looks good then add another $1.05 per kilogram of milk solids and that's the premium he's being paid for his organic milk.
But, even Moss admits he wasn't an easy convert.
"I didn't have time for organics.
"I thought organic farmers were hippie lifestylers living off the benefit and farming crap land," he told attendees at a biological farming seminar in Gore recently.
But, a visit to a top organic farm proved to be the catalyst for change for Moss who was struggling to remain profitable under a conventional farming system.
"We were under a lot of pressure and our net profit was disappointing.
"We weren't making money," he said.
The switch to organics resulted in several major changes.
Moss dropped cow numbers from 180 to 115, he started making his own supplements such as hay and silage, and all young stock were now grazed on the property.
He also farms 300 breeding ewes and 70 dairy beef animals.
Moss has a three-pronged approach to his farming operation which includes being environmentally, socially and financially sustainable.
He has created a park-like setting with hundreds of trees planted on his 252ha property in the Waitetuna Valley and he has fenced off and planted about 14km of waterways.
Moss was initially concerned about the effects organics would have on animal health, reproduction, profit and labour but his reservations were soon put to rest.
"One of our most impressive changes has been in animal health.
"We've managed to reduce our animal health bill from $60 per cow to around $5 to $10 per cow."
He uses herbal drenches and feeds flax to his stock to help combat worms, no longer has a problem with bloat and facial eczema has gone along with any metabolic issues.
He has stopped using CIDRs to induce cycling in his cows and culls his late calvers which has reduced his calving spread. "Our calving is a lot more compact now and we've been able to put our calving date back a week."
Moss was achieving high production under his organic system and expects to produce about 400kg of milk solids per cow this season.
He believed the key to good animal health was to look after the soil and apply the right balance of trace elements.
"If copper is good then worm problems will be less and there's no issue with lice if sulphur levels are OK."
While he mainly supplies his milk to Fonterra, he has also found a market for raw organic milk and this is sold at the gate at around $2 per litre.
And instead of sending his cull cows to the works they are turned into mince and sausages and sold for a premium.
Moss has moved away from a ryegrass dominant pasture and now includes clover, chicory, plantain, yarrow and chickweed in his mixes.
He admits he received a "fair bit of flack" when he started the organic process in 1999.
"They [farmers] thought I was nuts but now they are telling me they are impressed with my operation, but still they don't want to change."
Moss believed farmers were put off organics because they feared a drop in production.
"I don't give a hoot about production but I do give a hoot about profit."
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