Outgro Sponsors the 1st ABF Open Day – a Number 1 Hit!

Outgro Sponsors the 1st ABF Open Day – a Number One Hit!

The first open day for the Association of Biological Farmers was held at Incline Dairies at Patoka, Hawkes Bay, on the 3 November. Incline’s manager is Neil Armitage, a five- year veteran of the Outgro® programme.

Outgro® provided the seating and display area, the PA system, lunch and an 8m long soil-viewing trench and marketed the field day including securing Dr Guna Magesan and film crew from the FOMA and Vallance project. Dr Magesan is the senior scientist who recently presented at the 1st National Conference on Biological Farming Systems in Rotorua.

Farmers and growers come from as far afield as Gore, Marlborough, Martinborough, Gisborne, Rotorua and Auckland. The final tally was 85, with eight saying they were new to biological farming – fantastic stuff! The group included dairy farmers, sheep and beef farmers, orchardists, viticulturalists, consultants, scientists, educators, and a few younger members of the community. The trip was well worth the long winding drive up to Incline Dairies. After a powhiri everyone broke into small groups to meet new people and discuss ‘what is farming success?’ On-farm success seemed to be qualified around environmental, financial and social aspects such as biodiversity and regenerating soil, improved efficiencies with reduced reliance on external inputs, increased profitability, healthy animals, the production of nutrient-dense foods, increased consumer demand / awareness, community building and lifestyle. It seems we were all on the same exciting page.

Neil Armitage spoke passionately about his journey into biological farming. Neil shifted from an intensive high-input, high-production system to an Outgro® Programme in 2006. He has reduced his inputs but is still maintaining high production. The last capital fertiliser inputs were applied 13 years ago. Neil’s goals are to grow healthy pasture and achieve above- average production, while farming both sustainably and profitably. Currently there are over 800 cows, in split herds, on 230 effective hectares. Neil is maintaining or increasing excellent production off a system that is now 90 percent grass-fed. The kale has been pulled out and now “our actual crops are clover and diversity in the grasses.” Neil was asked about his earthworms: five years ago he had around seven worms per spade and now there’s over 100 in some areas of the farm. Many of the worms are the large deep burrowers, laying castings in their burrows, aerating the soil and bringing up minerals from lower in the soil profile. After a 400m walk in the blazing sun the groups joined Neil and Steve Horgan in different discussion stations. Steve is a local biological beef farmer using a similar approach to Neil, but on steeper hill country on a fert budget under $150 ha/year. Steve has found as little as 50g/ha of plantain seed can be added into his aerial fert mix with a positive strike. He strongly believes that “farmers should have a high regard for what they observe, watching the livestock, digging a spade hole and knowing what to look for.” When asked what was the best management decision for his farm, Steve replied “the fencing – by far”. The farm has one hectare cells, which means pasture can be mob stocked and hit hard and fast; replicating the action that hoofed animals have in wild pastures. Neil, meanwhile, covered some of his grazing practices and weed management; “weeds, what weeds?!” Neil’s pastures used to be dominated by thistles, and taking his Mum and Dad over 60 hours a week to keep under control. Now, the paddocks are chock full of thick, nutrient-rich diverse pasture which provides a range of services for the soil and the needs of the stock which graze upon it. Neil’s pastures included chickory, red/white clover, plantain, cocksfoot, yarrow, some lucerne, prairie, timothy, rye and impact grasses. Following the field observations it was time to head back for lunch, sponsored by Outgro®. A local catering company BBQ’d the finest beef and lamb to perfection. In addition, Outgro® invited Richard Williams (Origin Earth)

to provide cheeses and yogurts. All milk used in the Origin Earth batches can be traced back to the paddock and the healthy cows producing it – on Kevin Davidson’s biological farm which has been in the Outgro® programme for three years. Attendees remarked “you can certainly taste the difference.” Origin Earth is a great example of a business interested in working with farmers, producing quality products for a growing consumer demand for nutritious, tasty food (and tasty it was!). After lunch the group piled into vehicles and drove further down the farm where Outgro® had excavated a 1.6m deep sloping trench. It was a really worthwhile exercise. Everyone could walk down into the trench and see deep chickory roots opening up the soil… and evidence of deep burrowing worms down to a metre… and evidence of how water logging can restrict root depth. Neil’s soils were a beautiful thing to see with a lovely deep dark humified layer. It was also great to have several scientists on hand to pitch in on discussions when required. The day then finished up with fresh fruit salad and biological yoghurt for dessert.

The aim of these open days is to ensure farmers get independent practical advice from successful farmers around the country. Overall the feedback from the day was hugely positive and Outgro® will continue to provide both support to the ABF and to organise separately this service for our valued clients. Below just some of the comments for those who attended. “I would like to attend more of these and learn from different experiences.” “A good low key/informative and well-put-together field day” “Well done; great to mix with like-minded people” “It was good to see so many new farmers attending the workshop” “The best bit was being able to observe the soil and having explanations of what could be seen”. Half of the farmers who returned their feedback forms said that they would be changing some of their management practices due to information received during the day. All and all the day was hugely worthwhile, the weather certainly turned itself on and combined with blinding green luscious pastures it felt like the day had been ‘photo-shopped’! paddock and the healthy cows producing it – on Kevin Davidson’s biological farm which has been in the Outgro® programme for three years. Attendees remarked “you can certainly taste the difference.” Origin Earth is a great example of a business interested in working with farmers, producing quality products for a growing consumer demand for nutritious, tasty food (and tasty it was!). After lunch the group piled into vehicles and drove further down the farm where Outgro® had excavated a 1.6m deep sloping trench. It was a really worthwhile exercise. Everyone could walk down into the trench and see deep chickory roots opening up the soil… and evidence of deep burrowing worms down to a metre… and evidence of how water logging can restrict root depth. Neil’s soils were a beautiful thing to see with a lovely deep dark humified layer.

It was also great to have several scientists on hand to pitch in on discussions when required. The day then finished up with fresh fruit salad and biological yoghurt for dessert. The aim of these open days is to ensure farmers get independent practical advice from successful farmers around the country. Overall the feedback from the day was hugely positive and Outgro® will continue to provide both support to the ABF and to organise separately this service for our valued clients. Below just some of the comments for those who attended. “I would like to attend more of these and learn from different experiences.” “A good low key/informative and well-put-together field day” “Well done; great to mix with like-minded people” “It was good to see so many new farmers attending the workshop” “The best bit was being able to observe the soil and having explanations of what could be seen”. Half of the farmers who returned their feedback forms said that they would be changing some of their management practices due to information received during the day. All and all the day was hugely worthwhile, the weather certainly turned itself on and combined with blinding green luscious pastures it felt like the day had been ‘photo-shopped’!

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