By Dr Clive Dalton
Increasing interest in organic farming
There is an increasing interest in organic farming around the world as consumers become more concerned about food safety and with the over-use of chemicals in farming. Farming using “organic principles” is seen by an increasing number of people as a solution to these concerns. Below are some general principles
- Organic farms need to be registered with an organic licensing authority to meet specific standards, and this will cost you an annual fee.
- Your farm will be audited at regular intervals to check if you are complying with the standards. New Zealand standards are set to comply with, and even exceed, overseas organic standards required by importing countries.
- It will generally take three years before you can become fully organic in New Zealand.
- The basis of organic farming is to have a healthy productive soil which then produces healthy pastures and crops, and then healthy livestock.
- Farming animals under an organic system requires an even higher standard of management than under a conventional system.
- The main difficulties (or challenges) will be issues of animal health as you cannot use antibiotics, conventional chemical drenches for internal and external parasites or vaccines, unless under special circumstances which will compromise your organic status.
- There are organic alternatives available to prevent and treat diseases, but if in the view of your veterinarian the animals are suffering, you must use conventional veterinary medicines with the implications of losing your organic status on those sheep for a period of time.
- If animals under a certified organic system receive a conventional animal heath treatment, then they must be quarantined for a specified meat-withholding period in a designated quarantine area.
- Homeopathy is approved for use in organic systems.
- You may have difficulty finding sources of organically grown supplementary feeds such as hay, silage or grain-based concentrates. These must have been grown on registered organic properties and inevitably these feeds will be more expensive.
- Conventional farms that have gone organic have initially had to reduce stocking rate, but after a few years production levels have returned to pre-organic levels with much lower costs, especially in animal health.
- You will have to spend time making organic treatments for your animals, but many can now be purchased from specialist suppliers.
- You should appreciate how organic farming differs from “biodynamic” farming, which embodies the principles of organics but takes them a stage further with many more commitments.
Perceptions about organic farming
In many conventional farming circles, organic farming has a poor image and its principles are viewed with great suspicion, mainly because of the lack of documented evidence in refereed scientific journals. Skepticism is increased when “biodynamic” farming principles and homeopathy are added into the picture.
Organic farmers are used to criticism from the establishment and are keen to point out to those contemplating going organic a few important rebuffs to their critics. They have to spend more time telling skeptics what organic farming is not, rather than what it is! Here are the points they make. Organic farming is NOT:
- Farming by neglect!
- Losing money from your enterprise.
- The road to bankruptcy.
- Letting your farm run down and look like a wilderness covered in weeds.
- Letting pastures and crops fail through low fertility and disease.
- Accepting poor animal performance through poor feeding and disease.
- Letting animals suffer, and breaking the law.
The premium prices received for organic produce are certainly attractive, but then the skeptics say these won’t last. This has happened in Europe where there has been a massive interest in moving into organic farming, encouraged by farming subsidies.
What is quarantine?
- This is a designated area of a farm where animals are held until they are free from the effects of the treatment.
- The area must be well fenced and secure. An animal that has received conventional treatment and completed the quarantine period, can be returned to the organic area but lose its organic certification for a designated period.
- This period varies with the certification agency but is generally 12 months.
- Permanent identification and keeping accurate records are an essential part of the quarantine process.
More information on organic farming
Apart from the organic registration authorities, there are now an increasing number of organic farm consultants. Check the yellow pages of the telephone directory.
- The Oxford dictionary defines homeopathy as “the treatment of diseases by drugs, usually in very minute doses that in a healthy person or animal would produce symptoms like those of the disease”.
- Homeopaths stress that it is a gentle, effective and scientifically based system of healing that encourages the defence mechanism of the body to heal itself. It is based on the principle of similars or “let like be cured by likes”.
- Traditional scientists are highly skeptical and are openly critical of homeopathy because they say it lacks research that shows statistically significant benefits. The hard thing for skeptics to accept is the principle that as the concentration of the cure (made from the disease organism or a plant) decreases, the curing power of it increases!
- Now an increasing number of veterinarians offer both conventional and homeopathic remedies for their clients’ animals. Another observation which may not be related, is the increasing number of veterinarians who are women. Remember veterinarians charge fees so they have to use things that get results for their clients.
- One of the main reasons why some traditional vets have changed their views and their practices, is that they are increasingly disappointed and concerned about how the current use of animal remedies (such as anthelmintics and antibiotics) is leading to farming that is not sustainable.
- So think about it. You can join those who rubbish homeopathy totally as a myth without satisfactory evidence to prove its worth, or be open minded and try it on your sheep and see if it works.
Here’s a question to ponder.
If homeopathy is nonsense, then why are an increasing number of hard-nosed commercial farmers who have tried it, paying their bills and re-ordering product? They don’t do that if they have been ripped off.
The real question is this - has the past 50 years of veterinary research costing billions of dollars failed to meet farmers’ current needs, and does someone with the resources need to urgently sort out new priorities in animal health and disease prevention, to help farmers who are under ever increasing economic pressure? At present nobody seems to be grabbing this opportunity.
This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.