“Nutritious farming” pioneer to outline keys to organic success

September 9, 2015

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Pioneer organic farmer Alan Druce on his Ardlethan farm.

Riverina farmer Alan Druce has spent the past five decades nurturing his whole farm ecology, farming without chemicals and seeking a healthy lifestyle.

At 86, Alan continues to run the 1100ha property Green Grove Organics at Kamarah, with the help of his wife Jessie and colleague Andrew Taylor.

Alan is considered akin to the “grandfather” of modern organic farming but insists he is still learning new principles and techniques every day.

He will be a guest speaker at the Agri-Centre at the field days on Thursday, September 24 at 10.30am.

Mr and Mrs Druce sow around 202ha of cereal crops each year and run about 800 sheep and 45 beef breeders.

Alan is the first to admit switching from conventional to organic farming is not easy.

The time lag while soil biology is building can result in a downturn in production and income, he said.

Mr Druce prefers to use green manure crops as fertiliser by encouraging the growth of grasses, grazing the pasture with livestock and then ploughing in the mix of grass, urine and dung.

“In early 1962, I started reading books about organic farming, written by such men as Sir Albert Howard, Friend Sykes and Newman Turner,’’ he said.

“The principles they explained made so much sense to me I immediately started making changes.

“Even today, 53 years down the line, we are still experimenting, learning and making changes.’’

Green Grove Organics is certified Level A Organic with both the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia, and the Biological Farmers of Australia or Australian Certified Organic.

“I don’t like the term organic because most people have no idea what it means or what it is all about,’’ Mr Druce said.

“Instead of calling it organic farming, I talk about growing nutritious food.

“Obviously, if the soil biology is not working properly, then it is not going to feed the essential nutrients into the plants. Consequently, neither our stock nor ourselves are going to get the essential nutrients.’’

Mr Druce said practices such as over cropping, mono culture crops, over stocking, burning stubble residues and chemical fallowing were detrimental to soil biology.

He uses subclover and lucerne to “fix’’ nitrogen to reduce weeds such as skeleton weed and saffron thistle.

A top dressing of lime helps correct the calcium deficiency sought by weeds such as capeweed, while dolomite is used to control paterson’s curse.

“Disease in our sheep and cattle is no longer a problem. We do not drench the sheep for worms and have little or no trouble but we consider it important to rotate the sheep through the paddocks in order to break the worm cycle,’’ Mr Druce said.

“About a decade ago I switched from Merino to Suffolk-Dorper cross sheep and cannot keep up with the demand for my organic lambs.

“We are experimenting with other aspects of organic farming and are learning and making changes all the time.

“Our environment is so vast and complex I certainly do not profess to know it all.’’