Baldwin Organic Dairy Conversion

September 2009

Environment Award Winners convert to organic dairy production

Farm owners Gray and Marilyn Baldwin and sharemilkers Hamish and Jane Putt have won the Ballance Farm Environment Awards supreme award for Waikato in 2009, where the awards began in 1993, along with the Ballance Nutrient Management Award.

The partnership is now in its third year and the farm has completed two years of organic conversion. Organic milk receives a premium from Fonterra with only a small decline in production. The premium presently is 45c/kg MS during conversion and $1.05/kg for fully certified.

Wuppertal Farming at Putaruru has 410 cows in milk on 189ha (145ha effective) with a nearby run-off of 45ha (35ha effective) and a lease block at Huntly of 66ha. The home farm is 40% flat to gentle rolling and 40% rolling to hill and the balance steep. The Baldwin family moved there in 1965 and began dairying 10 years later. Gray and Marilyn purchased the farm in 1992 after two years leasing. Gray is a former Bank of New Zealand rural marketing manager and a former general manager of Summit-Quinphos, a subsidiary of Ballance Agri-Nutrients fertiliser co-operative. He is presently GM Dairy Operations at CHH Properties.

Neighbours and now sharemilkers Hamish and Jane Putt proposed a conversion to organic farming for Wuppertal Farming, which Gray & Marilyn were initially sceptical about, but are now convinced of its commercial soundness. Wuppertal has signed a six-year contract with Fonterra for organic milk supply, three years in conversion followed by three years with full certification. Major changes in animal health, nitrogen use and pasture mixes have followed the decision to go organic. Hamish has established a herbal ley pasture on 25ha, with a mix of tall fescue, chicory, plantain, lucerne, red and white clovers and timothy. He has described the results as stunning, producing 23 tonnes/ha DM compared with 15 tonnes on the rest of the farm. It also provides additional copper, cobalt, boron, phosphorus and zinc. The plan is to crop 10ha a year and re-pasture with the herbal ley.

Animal health remedies in organic dairying do not include penicillin or other antibiotics, so homeopathic remedies are used for mastitis, manuka honey for dry cow therapy and fish oil for bloat. However zinc and magnesium oxide and teat-spraying are still available. Organic maize was also grown on the run-off, using no spray or additional fertiliser, which produced 21 tonnes/ha DM, and three crops of grass silage were taken before the block was used for winter grazing. Young stock all leave the property on weaning for the lease block at Huntly, where they stay until just before first calving.

Fertiliser use has included 500kg/ha of reactive rock phosphate, 100kg/ha of salt and 400kg/ha of LimeMag Chip potash. With no artificial nitrogen allowed, now around 40% of the home farm is reticulated for effluent spreading, which provides some N, plus a greater reliance on clover for nitrogen fixation.

Gray Baldwin said organic dairying is not necessarily more sustainable than conventional dairying. This is because slight improvements in N and P release to water may be offset by a higher carbon loading both on farm due to extra physical destruction of weeds/cultivation and off farm in transportation and processing.

Extensive tree planting and riparian fencing has taken place on the home farm and a 43ha forestry block which is adjacent. The Pokaiwhenua River runs through the property and water quality leaving the farm is a high priority. As well as pine blocks up to 14 years old, natives have been used in the riparian strips and a range of tree crops, including chestnut, hazelnut and feijoa.

The BFEA judges commented on the extensive and varied plantings, especially around a spring on the property.

The judges also described the farm as an impressive operation founded on excellent working relationships “with sustainability in mind throughout the business”.

In Grays view, trees are the ultimate crop for steeper areas of the farm. As well as preventing soil erosion, the closed canopy renders thistle and ragwort ingression a non problem. Establishment and silviculture of trees is tax deductible and this assists with tax minimisation – a real issue with the high organic premiums from Fonterra boosting profits. The emerging carbon market represents another real benefit of trees as farmers will have the option of selling their carbon credits or harvesting their trees for timber depending on which option pays a higher premium.