Talbot’s family has been farming in the Yuleba area for about 100 years. Back then everything was ‘organic’ in the sense that we understand it today. However, now they farm a mix of conventional and organic farming. Of their 8500 hectares, about 1200 is farmed using organic methods, which means no artificial fertilisers or chemicals used to deter pests and weeds.
Returning to the family farm about 10 years ago, Talbot joined his father Alfred, and they began to farm organic wheat on areas where previously they’d run cattle. As crops hadn’t been grown in these areas before there was good nutrition in the soil.
A lagoon separates the organic from the conventional side of the farming operation. To maintain their organic status they also need to ensure machinery doesn’t cross-contaminate. The way they do this is to always plough, cultivate and harvest on the organic side of the lagoon first, before they move the machinery over to the western side to farm the conventional wheat.
Following this protocol means they only have to clean the header (where the grain is collected during harvest) once a year after the conventional harvest is over.
While Talbot’s farm is large in terms of hectares, the climate and soils are different out on the Western Downs. This means he will get a lower yield per hectare than other farmers such as Geoff or Steve. Consequently, he needs to farm a larger area in order to get similar financial returns.
Organic crop yields will also tend to be lower than conventional crops because the soil hasn’t been boosted using artificial fertilisers. These differences can sometimes be extreme, and this is one reason why organic food costs more than conventional. However, Talbot’s most recent crop did quite well. He harvested just over a tonne of organic wheat per hectare vs approximately 1.6 tonne of conventional wheat per hectare.
While it can be tricky to manage conventional and organic, Talbot feels that they have the balance of organic and sustainability ‘just about right’. And, proud of his family achievements, he hopes they will be farming the area for another hundred years.