Organics: a way of life

The organic journey for Far North Queensland part-time farmers Shane and Fiorina Solinas has been challenging.Shane Fiorina Solinas

The couple, parents to Morgan, 8, and Murphy, 7, have faced many hurdles as newcomers to the complex world of organic farming. Yet they have never wavered from their belief in the benefits of farming without synthetic chemicals and in tune with the health and nutrition of the soil.

Shane, a plumber, and Fiorina, who was raised on a dairy, potato and maize farm, purchased a 57-hectare property on the outskirts of Malanda on the Atherton Tablelands in 2010. The property had been undergoing organic certification but organics was the furthest thing from the minds of the couple when they looked for land.

Fiorina says, “The organics fell into our lap. The previous owners had put a lot of effort in over six years and we thought we may as well continue.” Little did they realise the challenge that lay ahead.

Shane and Fiorina missed an opportunity to continue with the organic certification process started by the previous owners of the property. So they approached certification body – Australian Certified Organic ­– which was happy to take into consideration the previous time served.

The couple applied for and was certified under Australian Certified Organic’s Organic Growers of Australia (OGA) program, however, they didn’t realise the limitations associated with this certification, which is designed for small growers.

For Shane and Fiorina, converting to organics was to be the point of difference that set them apart in the market. It was as much a commercial decision as a way of life. The alternative was restarting the certification process – a time consuming but necessary step. After some soul searching, Shane and Fiorina decided to follow what they believed in.

They are currently in precertification and hope to upgrade to ‘in conversion’ certification in the near future. Armed with determination, persistence and a strong work ethic, the couple set about improving the soil. Fiorina says, “While we were building our home and running our plumbing business, down the back we had weeds growing, flowering and seeding.”

Shane says, “One of the first things we learnt and live by today is getting the soil right first and then inputs will be less and the crop will be better off for it.”

They’ve achieved this through companion planting and the use of organic fertiliser, where required. Fiorina says, “People have commented that they’ve never seen the farm look so good, so that’s encouraging.”

The couple struggled to find certified organic seed suited to the tropical environment, so they sourced conventional seed, which isn’t treated or genetically modified, and completed a seed declaration. Early on they grew and sold oats – which were purchased by an organic farmer in the region – and green manure crops.

This year’s organic maize crop – the third to be harvested ­– is shaping up to be their healthiest yet. Fiorina says, “This year it’s uniform, the leaf is much greener and it’s all cobbed very nicely.”

To date, they’ve sold their maize onto the conventional market but are keen to explore options with certified organic millers in southern Queensland. Last year they purchased 19 certified organic Brahman cross steers – which they hope to finish off and sell – from certified organic beef producer Jervoise Station.

The cattle graze on the lush, organic grasses, buoyed by a decent wet season, and are supplemented, when required, by the farm’s organically grown corn. While they’re a little way off from being able to sell as certified organic, Shane and Fiorina dream of the day they can wind down their plumbing business and focus on the farm.

Fiorina says, “It’s starting to become a way of life for us personally. We want to lead a healthier lifestyle and we want our kids to grow up chemical and preservative free.”

If you liked this story you might also like this one.