Geoff’s 1400 hectare farm is about 40km north of the NSW border, near the small town of Thallon on the Western Darling Downs.
This is where he produces the wheat that is In Conversion to Organic. Back in 2015 he began growing wheat on land that hadn’t been fertilised artificially for some years. We then sold this as ‘natural wheat’, since it was not certified organic. After the success of that crop he decided to convert some of his farmland to certified organic growing methods. Thus he is In Conversion to organic.
Geoff grew up on a grazing property in the same area, before starting a career outside of farming, as many do. However, unlike the majority he returned to farming by buying his own property about 15 years ago. Several of his brothers have bought their own land in the same area. The region has the advantage of being viable for both wheat and wool production.
The sheep provide useful weed control and he’s able to graze them on the fallow land to eat the weeds. This is a common practice among organic farmers, although most conventional farmers will choose the convenience of weed spraying. However, chemicals used for crop spraying are expensive and sheep not only provide a cheaper method – they’re also better for soil health.
In Conversion to Organic flour must comply with Australia’s certified organic standards. Geoff will go through a three year process of growing grains using strict organic management practices before these crops can be certified as fully organic.
For primary producers there are 3 stages to achieving organic status.
At the beginning of the first year, the ‘pre-cert’ stage, he had the initial audit and an Organic Management Plan put in place. The audit reviewed accounts and production history, verifying inputs (eg: any thing added to soils, crop or livestock) and provided Geoff with alternatives where needed. At each audit the certifying body takes soil samples and tests for contamination chemicals, heavy metals and GMO (where applicable).
Fortunately, Geoff hasn’t used artificial fertiliser because the land has only been cropped for a few years. Drought conditions in the previous years have also meant that he didn’t need to apply crop sprays such as herbicides to control weeds. Instead, he found that it was sufficient to use his sheep as weed-eaters. Dry weather means there won’t be as much weed growth, thus he has found his sheep were sufficient to control previous years’ wheat crop without having to resort to sprays.
All this meant he had no problem meeting the requirements for this pre-cert stage. If a farm’s soil has been contaminated it may take up to 5 years to clear the area for organic certification.
This intensive pre-cert process involves a fair bit of paperwork, often not a farmer’s favourite part about converting to organic. We help them where we can with the paperwork, and discuss farming practices with them. Kialla also helps farmers by supplying or sourcing organic seeds as well as introducing them to members of the wider organic farming community.
Pre-certification products can’t carry an organic logo or make the claim of being ‘in conversion to organic’ for that first 12 months. So farmers are unable to sell any product as organic for that first year.
Then, after at least 12 months in pre-cert, another full-scale audit determined whether Geoff achieved ‘in-conversion’ status. As a result he can start selling product as organic, but since it’s not yet ‘A Grade’ status, we use the terminology ‘In Conversion to Organic’.
Another year will pass before the next annual audit presents Geoff with A Grade Certified Organic status, providing he continues to meet all the necessary requirements such as using natural inputs, organic seeds etc. So next year it’s very likely, weather permitting, we’ll be selling his next wheat crop as A Grade Certified Organic.
Meanwhile, the In Conversion flour products are marked with a stippled Australian Certified Organic logo. When you purchase in-conversion products you are supporting the farmers through this 3 year process, and you are recognising the additional work and costs involved in the conversion process. This kind of support encourages more farmers to go through the demanding certification process.
While the In Conversion grain has been grown and processed under strict organic standards, it is less expensive than A Grade grain, which has been in short supply due not only to a shortage of organic grain farmers, but also to recent crop damage and drought losses for our long-term suppliers.