Commonly used by farmers to control weeds, and Landcare groups to kill grass and weeds before tree planting, many don’t have any qualms about using glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup® – but not the Storti’s and thousands of other organic farmers.
Stephen and Lee Storti are in their second year of converting to organic; it takes three years to achieve full organic certification. They mainly run cattle and they have chooks, turkeys and pigs. The pigs are currently a sideline for her family’s consumption until she has access to a closer certified organic abattoir. Lee believes it would be cruel to send them over two hours away to be processed.
Their 180-hectare property in Victoria’s Gippsland is in a high rainfall area, it’s very steep in parts and green most of the year.
Why does Lee bother to farm organically? “I want to give my kids good food. You can trust organic. The [Australian] labelling laws are not sufficient to trust alone, particularly when it comes to GM, but a certified organic logo is very trustworthy.”
Lee’s property and her paperwork are audited each year to ensure compliance with the Australian Certified Organic Standard. Initial soil tests were also taken from her property to make sure they didn’t contain any residual chemicals.
Her aim is to improve the fertility of the land so it regenerates itself and doesn’t rely on imported minerals and organic matter. She laughs about this though and accepts it could be a long way off. “I don’t know if I’m in dreamland but a lot of people think you can self-regenerate without a lot of inputs. I’m hopeful we can. Balance is the key. There are lots of biological agricultural experts out there – brilliant people – but they don’t always agree. Christine Jones, Arden Andersen, Peter Andrews, Graeme Hand, Allan Savory, Elaine Ingham … I just take a bit out from each one.” A local organic group has been a great source of information for her over the past 10 years.
Talking about the changes she’s had to make to convert to organics, she says, “We didn’t really change much because we weren’t chemical users anyway.” Good biodiversity is one of the aspects of a certified organic farm that auditors look for.
Custodians of the soil
Lee says, “I’ve been planting trees for years and we were asked in 2009 by Landcare to spot spray grass so it wouldn’t compete with the trees. We refused to do it so they wouldn’t support us to plant them. We did them ourselves.
“We planted 10,000 trees and the success rate was terrific despite not killing the grass beforehand. When you spot spray, the chemicals go into rivers. I’m not a real Landcarer who goes to a lot of meetings but I’m definitely a tree taker.”
Lee says, “Sometimes I can smell glyphosate when l am out and about in the district. We’re just using it too freely. It’s killing all the biology. There’s an amazing factory under the soil and if you kill off stuff underneath you’re interrupting the process.”
Typical of the modesty of an organic farmer who strives to understand the land they farm, Lee says she is still learning and has a long way to go, particularly when it comes to animal husbandry – “but the animals teach me, they let me know”. She wants to increase cows’ health and get the stocking rates right for her property. “The animals get seaweed, mineral blocks, salt and things during the year. I rotational graze. The rotations range from 60 to 130 days.”
One of her older neighbours told her there used to be a lot of smaller farms in the area with a diverse range of animals and crops. Lee would like to bring those farming habits back, even if it’s just on her patch.
“I want to concentrate on growing healthy animals – they’re less maintenance and they’re happier – and I want to concentrate on regenerating soil and not on selling as much as possible. We shouldn’t have to exploit everything for money.”
Editor’s note: Since we visited Lee’s property, she made the painstaking decision to control blackberries with herbicide on fenced off area that is not under organic certification or accessible by livestock.
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