NZFarmer : December 16th 2009
SOUTH RURAL Straight Furrow 8-page Special Feature covering the South Island A300ha farm at Scargill in North Canterbury is a clear demonstration of the sus- tainability of an organic mixed farming system over 30 years. When Ian Henderson came back from Europe to take over Milmore Downs from his father in 1979 he set about converting to a mixed organic farm. It achieved Demeter certifica- tion in 1983 and BioGro certifica- tion in 1986, one of the first in New Zealand. Now Ian's son Matt manages the farm, which hosted a Canterbury Organic Pastoral Group field day at the end of November. The Hendersons use the biody- namic system initiated by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s. While most farmers and scientists would consign the method to the weird fringe, the Hendersons' farm is in top shape, with good animal health and few weeds. Briefly, under biodynamics the whole farm is treated as a living organism and individual compo- nents are managed for the benefit of the organism as a whole ahead of economic gain. In practice this is probably not too different from a number of farms which are managed with low stocking rates and where healthy soil restoration is given priority. However, the special prepara- tions used under the biodynamic system are very different and can't be explained scientifically. Related to homeopathy, one preparation is made from burying cow's manure in a cow horn for six months and then very heavily diluting it in water. By the time it is sprayed on the paddock it is vir- tually pure water. Ian, who is a biodynamic audi- tor, said biological activity was much greater in the biodynamic treated plots, but yields were much the same as untreated areas. "Organic farmers often have good soil anyway, so the biody- namic effect may not be so great. But as a package I think there's real benefits in going from organic to biodynamic. "It sounds away with the fairies, but it has a reality. You can see the result.'' The farm produces specialist cereal crops and raises sheep and cattle. It is summer dry, but can get frosts in every month of the year on some of the flats. The hill block of 140ha does not receive the biodynamic prepara- tions, but it has good looking pas- tures, especially considering they have not been renewed since the 1960s. Only lime has been applied. Sheep and cattle are run on this country in the ratio of 6:1. Cattle have reduced the amount of bar- ley grass as well as helped to con- trol internal parasites in the sheep. Because of low wool prices the Hendersons have moved from a pure Corriedale flock to using Poll Dorset ram across all the 520 ewes. This has seen good gains in fer- tility and lamb vigour, but foot problems have increased and they are unsure whether to stay with Poll Dorset long term. The first-cross ewes scanned 155 per cent and lambed 127 per cent. The average lamb carcase weight last season was 17.8kg. Sixty seven cows were wintered, plus 79 steers and heifers. On the 160ha home block there is an irrigation pond built by Ian's father in the 1970s, which can irri- gate about 50ha. "For the crops we grow, and for organic lamb production it pays," Ian said. "It's insurance for crops at this time of year. "I reckon in six years out of 10 it's about right, in two years we don't need it, and in the other two years it's hopelessly small.'' On this irrigated flat country they practice an eight-year rota- tion consisting of four years of cropping followed by four years of pasture. The cropping phase is the most profitable part of the farm while the grazed pasture phase allows soil restoration. The herbal ley pasture mix includes chicory, plantain, red and white clover, lucerne, brome, fescue and cocksfoot. It is normal- ly sown in January following a ryecorn crop. It is grazed lightly once during the winter, and then more extensively in spring. This first year pasture contains only a small number of Californian thistles. Ian said the deep rooted chicory helped suppress it "because calis like it compacted and anaerobic.'' The mixed ley also helps reduce problems like grass grub. "If you can promote as much diversity as possible you get more breaks, pre- venting things getting out of con- trol.'' After pasture this area is sown in spelt or dinkel wheat followed by tick beans, oats, and either barley or rye. Greenfeed crops are sown in between. The dryland areas normally have a 10-year rotation with seven in pasture followed by three in crop, usually barley, lentils and rye. It is the cereal crops where the Hendersons are gaining real bene- fits from their organic and biody- namic status. Cereals are milled on the property and sold to organ- ic shops and through mail order. The Dinkel wheat sells for $5000 a tonne. It is a low yielding plant -- they grow about 15 tonnes a year -- and it sells out. Dinkel is a covered wheat which has to be hulled to get the grain out. "That's why it has lost popu- larity,'' Ian said. "But it has superi- or baking quality and people who are gluten intolerant can eat it.'' firstname.lastname@example.org Dinkel or Spelt wheat, an important cash earner on Milmore Downs. Biodynamic all the way Economic benefit takes a backseat to environmental gain at the Hendersons' North Canterbury farm. Howard Keene reports Ian Henderson with son Matt, who now manages the 300ha farm in Scargill. photos: Howard Keene A good turn out at the Canterbury Organic Pastoral Group's field day at Milmore Downs. Cattle are an important part of the mixed cropping farm. QUALITY REPLACEMENT PARTS & EQUIPMENT Stockists of a huge range of cultivation parts, points, tines and bolts, as well as all these plough parts and more, made by Spaldings UK or locally by us. 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December 9th 2009