Horticulture

Filling in gaps in knowledge

By Country News

After taking over his family’s organic stone fruit and vegetable farming business, Lake Boga grower Nathan Free embarked on a Nuffield Scholarship to help fill the production and knowledge gaps facing Australia’s organic farming industry.

As managing director of Alkira Organics, Mr Free is responsible for vegetable production, packaging, marketing and dispatch at his family’s 100ha certified organic horticultural production business.

His Nuffield report, released on July 2, was supported by Hort Innovation and investigates sustainable practices for certified organic businesses operating in Australia, as well as new techniques to lift production.

Mr Free said there was huge potential for Australia’s organic industry to develop with better access to knowledge about innovative farming systems and access to organic inputs.

‘‘When our business decided to go organic, we quickly discovered that knowledge about organic farming was hard to find or expensive,’’ he said.

‘‘The availability and price of inputs required for basic plant nutrition and pest management were also a real challenge.’’

Keen to address the inconsistencies in supply and challenges of a segmented industry here in Australia, Mr Free visited organic businesses operating in the United States, the Netherlands and France.

‘‘When I first started this journey, I thought I would find a ‘silver bullet’ to fix everything, but from early on in my travels I saw organic farmers experiencing similar challenges to what we face here in Australia,’’ he said.

‘‘Instead, I found different approaches that can help our industry’s practices become more sustainable over time.

‘‘It is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather a combination of principles that can lead to better results year-on-year.’’

Mr Free said the development of a basic crop rotation plan that combined business and personal goals, as well as financial stability and the development of healthy soils, was a good start.

‘‘Crop rotation is a core requirement for a certified organic business and great care is needed to ensure continued plant and soil health.’’