Rob, Theodore, Qld
Rob grew up working on his parents farm, got into cotton, and then almost 15 years ago his contacts in the farming world lead him to try his hand at organics.
Now he manages and lives with his family on Kialla’s 1200 hectare farm 30km south of Theodore in Central Qld. He also continues to share-farm about 200 hectares near the Condamine river.
Half of the farm is currently In Conversion to Organic (see more below for more on the conversion process). About a third of the total farming area is irrigated using water from the Dawson river, which provides an excellent safeguard in times of drought. The balance is a mix of cattle and dryland wheat.
Rob grows both A Grade Certified Organic and In Conversion to Organic popcorn, white French millet, red sorghum, maize and wheat. He’s also growing organic KAMUT® khorasan wheat.
Kialla recently acquired the exclusive Australian licence for the KAMUT® brand of khorasan wheat. This trademark guarantees that crops grown using the KAMUT® khorasan seeds are always organic, GMO-free, and that this ancient grain has not been hybridised or changed by modern wheat breeding programs. KAMUT® khorasan also has higher levels of antioxidants, especially selenium.
Rob believes the future of organic farming will involve new technologies and he likes to experiment and test new methods. Some of these include using drones to check the crops and using science to help build soil health. As Rob points out, most conventional farmers are now waking up to the fact that decades of using fertiliser to artificially boost soil, and chemical sprays to kill weeds, has led to numerous issues. These include depleted soils and weed that are resistant to the herbicides.
Like many others who have left behind conventional farming with its high use of chemicals, Rob describes herbicides as ‘band-aid solutions’.
When he was a grain buyer for Kialla, Rob travelled many thousands of kilometres every year visiting farmers from Central Queensland all the way down to South Australia. His job involved liaising with them to ensure the crops grown fulfilled forward projections Kialla makes to meet the needs of our customers. While this job has now been taken over by our grain buyer Dave Thompson, Rob still plays a part in the farmer grapevine and has a lot of conversations about farming methods, effectively creating a network of information and experience across organic farming.
Unlike farmers in other developed economies like the EU and USA, farmers in Australia do not receive subsidies year after year to supplement their bottom line. Like many in the farming world, Rob has supplemented his farming income with fencing, harvesting and truck driving, in addition to working as Kialla’s grain buyer up until 2016. So you could say he’s a man who is capable of wearing many hats!
He’s also been known to work around the clock at harvest time to ensure the best harvest possible for Kialla.
He speaks of the pressures on Australian farmers, both in terms of economic challenges, and the increasing average age of the farmer who can often be the only full-time farm worker. As he says: “farming has a fairly gloomy future, but people will work out… that’s where their food comes from and it’ll come good – and there’s definitely a place for organics in it.”
About In Conversion to Organic produce:
For primary producers there are 3 stages to achieving organic status.
At the beginning of the first year, the ‘pre-cert’ stage, the farm 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 provides alternatives where needed. At each audit the certifying body takes soil samples and tests for contamination chemicals, heavy metals and GMO (where applicable).
This intensive pre-cert process involves a fair bit of paperwork, however this is something Rob is familiar with since he has been farming organically for some time and understands the process well.
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 the farm achieved ‘in-conversion’ status. As a result we can start selling the produce 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 the Kialla farm 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 the next crop as 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 for our long-term suppliers.