The short answer is yes! The long answer... Organic produce is certainly the "in thing" at the moment, and is regularly quoted as being the fastest growing industries in Australia, with many consumers willing to pay a premium for organic food. Amongst farmers however, the decision to "go" organic is somewhat a difficult decision. Whilst there is no hard evidence that organic food is better for us, my personal belief is that a move towards less pesticides and herbicides can only benefit us humans and the environment we live in. It is for this reason that we have decided to farm in an organic manner. We only use organic sprays on the trees and only apply organic fertilisers. Organic fertilisers take longer to make any significant changes to the soil, however their effects are longer lived and they don't get leached into water ways. After soil tests are performed throughout the grove we calculate the deficiencies required, and this year we are just about to apply 15 Tonnes of a mixture mostly made up of rock phosphate, lime and gypsum.
So why doesn't our label contain the "Certified Organic" logo on it. Well, we are not certified. There are two reasons for this and the first one may surprise most of you, and I believe this is one of the greatest misconceptions in the food industry at the moment.
1. Organic farms DO NOT have better animal welfare standards than conventional farms! In fact, in my experience as a dairy veterinarian, animal welfare on organic farms leaves a lot to be desired (in general - there are obviously some impressive examples of high animal welfare standards on the odd organic farm, however these tend not to be commercial farms). You see, organic animals aren't allowed to be treated with antibiotics or pain relief medication, and therefore when sick they are often left to their own devices so the farmer wont compromise their organic status. Sure, homeopathic remedies are used to varying success, but generally to no success. I have watched cows suffer after difficult calving's, from acute mastitis, blood infections, open wounds, etc because the farmer refused to let me administer any pain relief and/or antibiotics. As a vet (and animal lover) I found this incredibly difficult and would do all I could to avoid attending organic farms. Whilst I am against the use of widespread antibiotics and hormones being administered and placed in the feed to increase productivity, when an animal is sick it deserves to be treated humanely and then kept out of the food chain for an appropriate period of time.
2. The certification process is time consuming, costly, unscientific and poorly implemented. There are very strict rules involved in becoming a certified organic farm (many of which have no scientific basis) and it is easy to get bogged down with the paper work. As a result, many organic farms fail to properly follow the requirements for certification but still get certified. I have questioned many farmers on how they comply with some of the stricter rules associated with certification only to be told "oh, we don't do that, but don't tell anyone." In my opinion, certification is more about marketing than what is right for the animals and for the consumer.
I am completely FOR organic farming, and I believe the agriculture sector should be moving towards a greater use of organic pesticides, fertilisers and techniques. However, I believe the current certification process is rewarding bad behaviour and making it difficult for good farmers to migrate towards organic inputs and practices. For example, a farm that uses all organic fertilisers and pesticides, doesn't use hormones, but will treat a sick animal with antibiotics and pain relief will get a smaller return for their product than a 'certified organic' farmer that refuses to look after the welfare of their animals. In my opinion, this is simply not right! It is also not the right way to encourage an industry wide move towards organically produced food.
Manager Seaview Grove