Biodynamics at Shelly Beach Farms

October 2014

Thirty years of biodynamic farming on the Kaipara Harbour

Thirty years of organic farming has made Shelly Beach Farm a beacon of chemical free farm practice and a magnet for students from all over the world. 

When John Pearce and his wife Norrie came back from the United States in 1973, they looked around for a 10-acre block so they could grow some of their own food. Instead, they discovered a rundown 200ha coastal block on the western shores of the Kaipara Harbour for about the same price as smaller blocks nearer the city. It had no fences, no water and the only barriers to the wind whistling down from Dargaville were weeds and shoulder-high thistles.

The first year that they tried dairying, they ran out of water in the summer. Buying water was expensive because an average cow needs 40 or 50 litres a day. John Pearce sought advice from his neighbours, offering to work for them for half a day or so, as long as he could ask them questions at the same time.

He didn’t know anything about organics in those days either, but that was more than 30 years of analysis and thought ago. Now dams, carefully designed shelterbelts to create microclimates and a host of other developments, including re-sowing some land with seed from a 70-year old local pasture containing 16 or 17 different plant types, have transformed the property.  They have had a Demeter biodynamic organic classification since 1979, but are no longer with that certification scheme. Research using Norrie’s qualifications in chemistry has helped find out why some benefits of organic farming previously attributed to rather mystical methods are explainable through scientific analysis of what is going on in the ground.

“We used to think it was something you couldn’t explain,” says John, “but now we know it’s down to bugs.”

They now have overseas students coming to the farm to study their methods and help with labour.

The stock is never drenched or vaccinated, something achieved only by several years of careful husbandry.

A report notes that the Pearce’s farming operation took four or five years to become economic, but has been that way since 1983.

Shelly Beach Farm is a 173.7 ha organic/biodynamic farm situated on a peninsula on the Kaipara Harbour with panoramic water views, one hour northwest of Auckland. The farm’s owners, John and Norrie Pearce, are world leaders in researching and implementing sustainable practices derived from working in harmony with nature. All nutrients are provided by on-farm production of fish and organic microbiological supplements augmented by dung beetles and specialist worm varieties.

The farm runs Perendale sheep, Angus beef and Jersey dairy cows. Pigs, emus, geese and turkeys add variety to the fauna. All livestock has been carefully and selectively bred to be parasite and infection free without any chemical input. John says the sheep are only brought in once a year for shearing – there’s no crutching, drenching, dipping or anything similar. He says that was the hardest thing to manage.

The farm has 250 certified organic Perendale breed that have had no chemical input for over 25 years. They have genetic resistance to parasites – there is no drenching or dipping and they are shorn only once a year. No vaccinations, parasiticides or insecticides are used.

Bana grass, grown for summer stock food and as a quick growing shelter, is a drought resistant African sugar grass that grows to 3 metres high.  It can be cut three times a year and is used extensively in South America for ethanol fuel.

The Angus beef herd consists of 80 organically certified low care breeding cows. The Hereford bull is used for Angus/Hereford crosses. Their young animals are sought after by farms establishing organic status as the cattle haven’t been touched with chemicals for over 25 years.

Shelly Beach Farm was the first organic farm in New Zealand to be registered for both Demeter and Bio-gro organic status.

Since its inception, Shelly Beach Farms has served primarily as an educational and research facility on several levels. To date they have hosted about 1,000 undergraduate students from universities in Germany, the Netherlands, USA, India, Korea, Japan and New Zealand, all completing their practical experience for their undergraduate and Master’s degrees.