Converting to organic farming

Is organic farming for you?

This is the most important question of all. If you are only half hearted about the concept, then keep right away. Have a clear understanding about what organic farming is, and what it is not. Ask the key question of why do you want to change?

Advantages and disadvantages to consider?
Advantages
  • Job satisfaction - doing what you really enjoy.
  • You produce what the market wants.
  • You are filling a niche market that pays well.
  • You are operating a clean and green system.
  • The satisfaction of seeing healthy happy stock.
  • The satisfaction of seeing a healthy soil develops.
  • Less stress on you and your family.
  • You can cut major farm inputs drastically.
  • You can farm profitably.
Disadvantages
  • You may have to change some present management techniques.
  • You will need to have confidence in yourself.
  • You’ll have to deal with the inevitable peer pressure.
  • You may upset your neighbours.
Gather information

Gather and devour as much information as you can. Talk to people in the business, especially those who are actually selling organic products. BEWARE of enthusiasts who don’t have their own dollars at risk and over-enthusiastic salespeople.

Do a SWOT analysis

On a piece of paper list the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to your idea to go organic. Try to see ways to turn the weaknesses into strengths and the threats into opportunities. This will build confidence in the decision you have made. If it does the opposite - then stay as you are.

Goals

From your SWOT analysis, develop some goals. Then write them down and pin them on the wall. This helps in committing you to achieving them. Don’t be in too much of a hurry. After 25 years of conventional farming - it may take much more than a couple of years to fix.

Consider converting part of the farm

Some farmers prefer to convert their property in stages, while this may help build the individuals confidence, the logistics of managing two areas of your property under differing rules can be a logistical nightmare

You will have to be extra careful with documentation and staff will have to be extra vigilant.

Have a pre-conversion plan

This is where you start. Develop a pre-conversion plan. Conversion to Full Organics will take a minimum of three years but you’ll most likely need to make changes to your farming system before the official conversion starts. For example if your pastures are not performing, or the clovers have disappeared, then fix this.

Talk to an organic consultant to see where your farm is currently at, and where changes must start. Don’t see this as a negative and delaying option, in fact it can speed up your final conversion and ensure success. Focus on the end result but don’t try to achieve the unachievable. Be realistic.

Plan ahead for each 3 months

How do you eat an elephant? The answer is in little bits at a time. It’s a good approach in your planning whether in the pre-conversion stage or the conversion stage.

  • Plan what you are going to do in the next 3 months.
  • When that time is up, plan the next 3 months.
  • Be ahead of the play all the time
  • Avoid management by crisis.
  • Have a contingency plan ready if things go wrong.
  • Intervene early - if an animal needs conventional treatment , then administer it.
  • Organic Farming is not farming by neglect.
Talk to marketers

Do a lot of this during the pre-conversion plan. The idea is to clarify your objectives and build confidence. Beware of dreams though - there are a lot of dreamers around who want you to do things to help them!

Contact a Certification Agency

Do this early on and get their rules and regulations. Make sure you realise how their standards are accepted overseas as there are many different standards. Arrange for an initial “helping hand” visit to look over the farm and fill out any forms needed. Have a good farm map available

Consider your neighbours

You’ll have to think of how any change to your farming system might impact on your neighbours, eg the spreading of effluent or liquid fertilisers. More importantly you will have to consider how what they do will affect your organic status. For example their spray programmes that will drift across to your place. You will have to work with them and improve communication. Communication is the key, talk with your neighbours.

Beware of bureaucrats

You may have to deal with a range of organisations:

  • Regional councils.
  • District councils.
  • Road boards.
  • Power boards.
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF).
  • Resource Management Act (RMA).
When thing go wrong

Seek help - don’t try to fix things yourself which may take up time. Don’t hesitate to use conventional treatments in time to achieve a result. Set intervention levels when you intend to administer a conventional treatment. Don’t let the animal lose condition or suffer.

Information provided by:
Mr Denis Cadwallader, Organic Farming Specialist. 22 May Avenue, Napier, New Zealand
Phone (06) 834-3405, Fax (06) 834-3406, Mobile 025-481-782, Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mr Cadwallader is guest tutor in Organic Farming at the Waikato Polytechnic.
Phone (07) 834-8806 for further information on courses.

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