Organics and BioDynamics at Milmore Downs
Grain season is upon us, and if it wasn't hard enough, North Canterbury in the South Island, New Zealand has experienced a long period of drought going back to 2014. In the 12 months following June 2014, the rainfall was a mere 330mm (normally more than 700mm), and with a continued lack of rain going through 2015 - this was by far the driest since records began in 1960.
Throughout the drought, and with long periods of Northwest wind, the soil moisture deficit remained at permanent wilting point early in the 2015 spring. A serious feed deficit occurred with little hay made due to the early onset, and little or no pasture cover going into the autumn and winter months. Stock was sent to Southland for grazing, hay was trucked up from there, and outside grain imported to keep stock alive on bare pastures.
The September 2016 rainfall was slightly above the month's average, and with warming temperatures, the growth was good and the diversity started to pay off. It was this that played an important role in helping to buffer the extreme conditions. There are extensive shelter plantings to reduce evapotranspiration, all pastures are mixed herbal leys with deep rooting species, river flats are sown to luzerne and there is a small flood harvest irrigation scheme.
The diversity that is integrated with each sector supporting the others provides a higher degree of stability. Certification trademarks are a must when people live far away from the farm or there is export. It provides a guarantee for consumers and a guarantee whose value is in direct proportion to its dependability
Looking back to where things began for the Hendersons, a family run farm was passed down to Ian, who had ideas to develop it as an Organic/Biodynamic farm, where the idea gained momentum after experiencing working farms in Europe but pioneering the principles and practice on a larger scale here in New Zealand was a challenge.
As the Hendersons explain, farms are individualities, and the challenge is to find and develop the mix or 'organs' so that a unified whole comes into a being, an organism.
More often than not, consumers know where the products originate and in this case, consumers clustering around the farm were an instrumental factor in getting the grain production going. This was an early form of community supported agriculture to the point of guaranteeing the start up capital needed for milling machinery. However, not all consumers know the farm, and BioGro Certification was taken up in 1986, (to add to the Demeter recognition gained three years earlier) as a way to reach out.