Mick grows mung beans, popcorn (a type of maize), sunflowers, red sorghum and wheat on his 2000 hectare organic farm in Central Queensland. He grew up on a cattle station not so far from the farm, a place that is still in the family.
After buying the farm in 1982 Mick found he had a knack for farming. A farmer needs to be a great planner and organiser, but like many other skills it requires a certain instinct that goes above and beyond what can be learnt even through experience.
He works alongside his wife, and their 2 sons. In addition to the farming they also tend about 7000 head of organic cattle on their other property. They’ve found that the farming sideline works very well with the organic cattle operation.
However, even if you’re a natural-born farmer, you can’t control the seasons and some seasons popcorn and mung bean crop are not so successful due to the dry weather. Both of these crops love plenty of moisture in the soil, and the short roots of popcorn make it vulnerable to drought.
Mung beans are a useful crop to grow in between wheat as legumes fix nitrogen in the soil. They grow quickly, reaching maturity about 12 weeks after planting.
The farmer can use the same equipment to harvest mung beans or sunflowers as he can for popcorn and wheat, although they are completely different plants (one is a legume with seed pods, popcorn is a large grain plant, and wheat is a perennial grass with seed heads). He simply needs to change the settings on the harvester. The pods must dry out completely to be ready to harvest, so that the thresher can crush the dry pods and separate out the beans.
Depending on the weather it may take some weeks for the beans to dry out. If there is rainfall at this time the crop can be ruined by fungus or mould. A short cut, to avoid fungi in conventional mung bean crops, is to spray the crop with a herbicide such as Round-up. This effectively kills the crop leaving it ready to be harvested.
Spraying with Round-up to ‘finish off’ a crop is a common practice in non-organic farming. It is acceptable because Round-up is considered non-harmful to humans. This is somewhat debatable and most recently WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared Round-up’s active ingredient glyphosate a ‘probable carcinogen’.