Well structured sources of advice, tuned specifically to organics have a great potential to reduce the risks and uncertainties of organic production, says Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association chairman, Greg Turner.
Mr Turner was responding to the announcement of a $2.2 million three-year funding programme for an organics advisory service that will provide research and advice to farmers converting to organic production. (April 2006)
The announcement, made by Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton and Green Party Organics spokesperson Sue Kedgley is the result of a post-election agreement between Labour and the Greens.
Good advice was essential in encouraging further farmers to convert, said Mr Turner. Individual farmers often repeat trial and error approaches already made by others, he said.
He said organic farmers are a very small part of the farming fraternity and infrastructure at present and as a consequence are not well supported by sources of comprehensive advice.
“Today’s organic farmers seeking solutions often use conventional advisers for diagnosis” said Mr Turner, “but they may not be able to accept the recommendations if they do not meet organic requirements."
As a result diagnosis, remediation, and review of the results do not fit together seamlessly and efficiently.
Mr Turner said organic farming itself has significant benefits for a range of community needs. It adds value to the product, improving export earnings. It also internalises more of its costs, by lessening impacts on the environment from water soluble fertilisers and sprays, and by reducing the need to intensify to keep production costs down.
Organic farms often support more people, thus providing benefits in employment, in sustaining rural communities and in regional development. Organic farming reduces the exposure to toxic chemicals, particularly for farmers, with corresponding benefits for health.
Biodynamic farming has been practised in New Zealand for nearly 80 years, with goods sold under the Demeter certification labe. Mr Turner said the association applauds the new advisory scheme and its members are actively supporting it. It foresees a "bright future" for its own Biodynamic Consultancy Society in the new environment.
Organic niche acknowledged
Making the announcement, Mr Anderton said organics had developed a niche and was becoming an increasingly realistic option for farmers looking for alternative markets.
"The future of the New Zealand economy depends on agriculture, and we need to make the most of every advantage we have. One of New Zealand's natural advantages is the lack of many of the pests and diseases that make organic production a more realistic proposition here than it might be elsewhere."
Ms Kedgley welcomed the initiative and said: "At last we have a government that is willing to get behind this sector and help it to expand and grow.”
Advice and assistance
“This initiative is aimed at encouraging several hundred farmers to convert to organics every year by providing them with advice and assistance.
She said she was confident that, in the years to come, New Zealand would see a burgeoning of organic production as producers become better informed about organics and have more examples and assistance to help them solve problems.
"Where would New Zealand’s traditional agriculture be today if it had not received this kind of support in its early years? This is about helping to develop a sustainable and flourishing organic sector in New Zealand.”
The programme will be administered by Organic Aotearoa New Zealand, with funding administered by MAF. It involves $550,000 in 2006/7 and $800,000 in both 2007/8 and 2008/9.