- The person pays a once-off joining fee ($50)
- The person has applied for 5 organic shares at $10 per share
- The person is able to use or contribute to the services of the co-operative
- Is supportive of the overall mission of ORICoop
The Organic Development Group (ODG) consists of eleven organisations including certification, consumer, investment, and advocacy associations, who have over the past seven months joined together for the specific purpose of achieving regulatory reform in the Australian domestic market. The ODG has met three times in person, once virtually and has convened two separate working groups to facilitate foundational work streams such as research and review of potential pathways towards the shared goal of domestic regulation. The ODG is a voluntary group with representation by 11 industry groups. The Secretariat is resourced by Australian Organic Llimited, NASAA Organic and Organic Industries Australia (OIA) and funded by Australian Organic limited and NASAA Organic.
The group’s success was witnessed by the Australian Government at the inaugural Parliamentary Friends of Organic in Canberra during Organic Awareness Month. The Parliamentary Friends group was founded by Dan Repacholi, Member for Hunter, and Aaron Violi, Member for Casey. During the event Minister for Agriculture Senator Murray Watt attended and spoke of the importance of our industry and bipartisan support was demonstrated by the inclusion of Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Leader of the National Party David Littleproud in the final formalities.
ODG representatives are standing shoulder to shoulder, calling for reform and working as a united front. It is a credit to the representatives and the Secretariat how much has been achieved in such a short period of time. Well done to the ODG representatives for putting the industry’s future first and making this critical progress.
Photo: Greg Paynter
ORICoop has been in deep conversations with our members, producers, supply chain businesses and investors that are interested in a more sustainable and resilient food and farming system. We are keen to share our learnings – and to ask the question of the future of our food and financial systems. And what is the true colour of money?
Right now – Farmers around the country are innovating and transitioning quickly. Quicker in fact than Governments and Industry bodies realise. They are pressured by commodity prices, by wars overseas, by severe climatic events and rising interest rates. Yet with the current rising inflation – producers are not being paid much more than they were 5 years ago. Despite their costs increasing just like everyone else’s. Perhaps this is our new normal as outlined by The Guardian recently.
The elephant in the room is the consumer. The end buyer. The supermarkets. What people are willing to pay for healthy, local nutritious food. And has this split changed over the past 50 years – with regard to our lifestyles, work-life balance, debt and the priority of food over housing or other lifestyle choices. The deeper realisation of the value of health and how nutrient dense food affects the cost of maintaining good health.
What does this mean for farmers? This means that many producers (dairy and grain growers are good examples) are being asked to grow more volume per hectare of land than ever before. To the detriment of the nutrient density of the food and the land that it’s grown on. With the ambition to increase our agricultural production to over $100B from the National Farmers Federation. On land that is more expensive than ever in history with input and labour costs also at an all time high. And yet – the end price producers are receiving at the farm-gate is not that different to 10 years ago. In no way increasing comparative to the increased costs of food provided to consumers at the supermarket. Or linked to the highly profitable returns of the major supermarkets. The system is broken.
“The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” John F Kennedy
So, how do we change this paradigm? Global Domestic Product measures the increase of our economy, yet does it attribute the true cost of this economic measure. Or considering the profitability and productivity opportunity across Agriculture – if we measured this ‘true cost’ paradigm differently. With increased labour costs, some of the highest in the world. How can Australia sustainably grow food comparative to many other countries. Yes with some of the largest swathes of land in the world. Noting New Zealand has a subsidised Pacific Island labour program. Europe has a heavily subsidised agriculture sector. And the US has strong support for commodity based agricultural production systems. Is Australia being left behind? Should we have an incentivised land stewardship package? Or is there a risk we will be priced out of the market? Or have we not demonstrated our clean and green image well enough to the rest of the world? Should we be more focussed on feeding our population before selling into these larger world commodity markets that may actually be part of the overall problem.
ORICoop with our ORCA ‘Farmers Own’ brand is on a bold mission. To provide bulk organic products that streamlines a more efficient organic supply chain. That provides healthier food economically to more people. And ensures that producers are sustainably growing what the market is demanding. Keeping the supply chain efficient, nimble and ensuring that the grower and end buyer understand the different parameters of a complex supply chain.
We are determined to build a stronger domestic organic market. So food travels less distance to more people, is more affordable and has a stronger provenance story. It can be healthier, grown and transported with less of a carbon footprint and more of a conscious understanding of how it was grown. Organic products have market fluctuations based on seasons, based on the capacity to plant or harvest crops. It takes innovative producers to manage significantly different years – from 2019 (severe drought) to the last two years of abundant rainfall and flooding in some regions. What producers need is markets that work with their capacity to grow and innovate. And to ensure that products grown have the best opportunity into the market – not just the perfect looking apples, or premium 14% protein grains or only Autumn flush dairy milk. We must get better at growing, manufacturing and utilising food in a truly sustainable way that ensures we are efficient, less wasteful and understand the planetary boundaries of truly sustainable agriculture.
What does this have to do with the Colour of Money? For many years investors have invested into Agriculture as a straight property investment. Not to underwrite our food security or support transition to better land stewardship practices. What if we used ‘true cost accounting’ to reflect the invisible cost to consumers of ameliorating the cost of the externalities of the industrial food production system? To reconsider the lucrative returns of 12-14% year on year. With the plan to exit after 7-9 years with a real estate property acquisition that includes significant capital growth. They call it ‘ethical impact’. The reality is, most agricultural investments provide a low (3-5%) cash return on investment (ROI) annually with a higher proportion allocated to capital growth – in the range of 5 – 8% annually. But is this model truly sustainable? For our population? Or for the planet?
To underwrite our food security we need to measure capital differently. One that views food security and land stewardship as critical to our very survival. Economically but also metaphorically. Did you know that producers pay a higher rate of interest on farmland (property) than standard interest rates? Even though land is property with property security? The front porch is not very palatable when you’re wanting something to eat, it is a question of priority? Why are producers left to fend for themselves when markets fluctuate and do not always reflect the true cost of food production. If true cost accounting was used in real terms farmers would be considered to be slaves, when considering their net profit (outside of a real estate gain), comparative to other lucrative and increasing wage levels across essential industries. Walden Mutual in the US is a leading example of how investment can be done differently. We need models like this in Australia, urgently.
To change this paradigm, investors must passionately support a fairer food and farm transition with a deeper lense, beyond just a philosophical idea. Investors that are patient and driven by ethical, sustainable and reasonable returns that considers farmers, and the health of the land and the food we eat. Investors that are looking for a co-beneficial relationship that revolutionises food and farm systems in a sustainable and earth centric manner. To invest into food systems that are innovative, multi-layered, diverse and resilient for food, farming and community benefit. Food systems that have short supply chains and are not commoditised for the benefit of the large agri-business sector – but are driven by the needs of our communities. First and foremost.
The ORCA investment Phase 2 is opening for investment shortly. This is an exciting step for ORICoop. It provides opportunity for larger investors to participate in supporting infrastructure investment into localised organic supply chains – infrastructure that enables grain to be processed within shorter distances. Including grain that is grown in a more regenerative and sustainable manner – that includes cover crops, legumes and specialty grains (lupins a prime example). Rather than a commoditised wheat, oat and barley focus that depletes the carbon and nutrient bank in the soil if not managed well, and is significantly affected by world markets. This limits the growth of the organic sector that has much capacity to flourish and expand into these premium niche markets. Australia has more than 55M hectares of farmland that is certified organic farmland. That is more than half the world’s total certified land area. From that land our organic sector is worth more than $3.6B (according to the Australian Organic Market Report), noting the US market has just exceeded US$60 Billion for the first time in history (from less land area). The Australian market is growing at 12-14% annually. What if this increased to $5B annually, or by 20% year on year these dividends were reinvested to improve on-farm knowledge, supply chain knowledge and efficiency with strategic market development? Whilst addressing climate change mitigation, adaption and addressing biodiversity loss as additional dividends. Australia can be a leader in supplying Asian markets and the Middle East for quality organic food and fibre. While looking after our land and our regional communities.
What the food and agriculture sectors need is a new Colour of Capital. One that is driven by urgency, yet patient and compassionate to the seasonality of agriculture and food systems in a changing climate. That understands we are all in this together. Australia must get better at growing and processing local food at scale. Like our forefathers and mothers did. To rebuild and scale efficient and local processing capacity, and to re-energise food production that enhances regions for their climatic and farming strength. And to build and value community driven food systems for the better. To have an innovative investment capacity that exemplifies our strength of markets, our capacity to grow large volumes of product in a sustainable manner, our seasonal diversity and access to land.
The world needs a different Colour of Capital that builds long term impact for the better. If you are interested in finding out more you can complete the EOI here.
Written by Carolyn Suggate,
Executive Director of ORICoop
E – Carolyn’s email
** Photo Credit – David McFall
The little known lupin is likely the most powerful superfood you’ve never heard of. While lupins have been used as a food for as much as 6000 years in the Andean highlands and over 3000 years around the Mediterranean, they are slowly making their way onto supermarket shelves in Australia and around the globe. Meanwhile, farmers are recognising their multiple advantages in both sustainable cropping systems and as a high-protein addition to animal feed.
With over 200 species, lupins are grown in a wide array of regions across the globe, ranging from the Mediterranean to the southwestern United States, northern Mexico to both eastern and western parts of Australia. Two varieties of lupin are most commonly grown in Australia, with the majority of lupin production occurring in the winter/spring rain-fed parts of southwestern Western Australia. Australia produces about 730,000 metric tonnes of lupins per year, the equivalent of approximately 80–85% of the world’s lupin production. About 30% are used domestically within Australia, while approximately 70% are exported to Asia, North Africa and the Middle East for animal feed. As a high-protein grain, lupins are most commonly grown and harvested for human and animal consumption, yet they also hold many advantages in both cropping and mixed cropping–livestock farming systems.
Farmers can enrich their soil naturally by planting an annual that produces a kaleidoscope of pea-like flowers with bold spikes of vibrant purples, pinks and blues, rich reds and yellows, or crisp, clean whites, attracting a range of pollinators including bees and butterflies. In regenerative cropping systems, lupins produce a significant nitrogen contribution for subsequent crops in soils. They provide a disease break for cereal crops and can help control grass weeds within well planned cropping sequences. With taproots that stretch deep into the earth, lupins are drought-tolerant and also help break up compacted soil. When lupin plants die back, the taproots slowly break down, increasing the organic content in the soil, helping the soil retain water. These combined benefits can increase the yields of cereals following lupin crop rotation, particularly when grown in sandy soils.
The nutrient content of lupin grain, in protein, amino acid, energy and mineral levels makes it both a nutritional and economical addition to stock feed formulations. Among the various grain legumes used in stock feed, lupins can be used as an alternative to soybeans and are highly regarded as feed for poultry, pigs, ruminants, and fish. Research has shown that replacing soybean meal with lupin meal as an alternative poultry protein feed source reduces cost of production and improves poultry egg productivity. In other studies, using lupin grain in feed rations has been shown to increase the milk production of beef and dairy cattle. It can be more valuable to include in the diet than cereal grain because it tends to not lower the fat content of milk (as high levels of cereal grains may do). Researchers have also investigated the potential for lupin grain to be used as a plant based feed source in aquaculture operations and found that lupin was particularly useful for fish diets because of the highly digestible level of protein, good levels of digestible energy and highly digestible phosphorus.
While the crop is grown mostly to produce stock feed, there is a small, but growing market for lupin grain for human consumption. Lupins are slowly growing in popularity among consumers due to their many health benefits: protein-rich, highly nutritious, sustainable, and versatile, lupins are a powerhouse of goodness. They are one of the richest sources of plant protein and fibre (at least twice as much as other legumes) and packed full of nutrients and antioxidants including thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc. Eating lupin beans has been linked to lowering blood pressure, improving blood lipids and insulin sensitivity and favourably altering the gut microbiome in studies. The Australian food industry is beginning to recognise the value of lupin and a range of lupin products are now available, including whole lupin flakes, flour, crumb, semolina, or enriched food products such as pasta, cereal and cookie mix.
ORICoop has been working with key organic growers in Western Australia and the Riverina – to expand and diversify their crop selections to include lupins. This provides producers a unique and valuable intercrop option – and enables a strong cash crop for organic dairy and poultry producers. ‘There is a strong appetite for lupins as a livestock feed, and with our Farmers Own ‘ORCA’ Brand we are pushing through the barriers to get bulk lupins from growers to end users in Victoria, Southern Australia and Queensland. Our next ambition is to tap into strategic export markets. This legume has a well deserved place of prominence in the organic and regenerative cropping market – and we are looking forward to it’s initiation across the Australian organic sector’ says Carolyn, ORICoop Executive Director
Ian and Jodi are well experienced with growing lupins in Western Australia. And are thriving in growing them under an organic system. ‘Lupin crops play a pivotal role in the viability of organic and regenerative farming systems in Western Australia. They present to the farmer a range of critical advantages over other crop rotation options available such as suitability in deep acid sandy soils, excellent nitrogen fixation capability, disease resistance and disease break for other crops, impressive stockfeed quality and volume of post harvest residues and competitive demand and value of lupin seeds.
Nitrogen is typically applied to a crop in the form of urea, and although urea application can result in vigorous crop growth it has a hidden destructive action on soil health and long term fertility that requires additional fertilisation to overcome. Organic and regenerative farming systems limit or prohibit the use of urea for this reason. Lupins can fix similar levels of nitrogen from the atmosphere directly into the soil naturally and even increase soil health making them the goto natural fertiliser for the environmentally conscious consumer and farmer. The lupin seed and after harvest crop residues provide an additional benefit of an outstanding high value stockfeed source for grazing ewes and lambs. Ewes and lambs grazing or being fed lupins outperform those running on grass crop feeds and harvest residues providing substantially more lambs and reach market weight far quicker than those running on grass crop grains and residues.
With its unique macro and micro nutrient composition, there is growing evidence that incorporating lupin ingredients into animal and human diets can have direct health benefits. On farms, the benefits range from improved soil structure and water efficiency to increased yields and profitability. With its wealth of advantages, lupins are fast becoming a key ingredient in sustainable agriculture and sustainable diets.
To enquire about bulk lupins you can contact ORICoop HERE
Story written by Eva Perroni
Greetings to all ORICoop Subscribers,
Woah the rain in the South! Thinking of all the producers that have had a busy period getting crops in before this drenching rain. We, in the snow country and juggling calving cows and snow conditions right now!
A quick update from ORICoop. We have been head down with our ORCA capital raising over the past month and navigating bulk organic grain supply across our National producer and buyer network. Together with expanding the ORCA marketplace to better meet the needs of grain producers, buyers, manufacturers and key expanding grain markets in Australia.
ORCA Investment Opportunity
Have you completed your EOI for Phase 1 of the ORCA investment project? We are proceeding with our investment strategy based on the EOI’s received to date. We have identified key infrastructure opportunities – that will provide more options for the organic grain sector in partnership with some of our key producer members across Southern Australia. This means we will be able to manage and process organic grain more locally and efficiently and increase the diversity of crops that organic producers in the southern states can grow and sell. A win-win outcome!
We have also identified new markets for existing bulk grains which is super exciting for organic grain growers keen to expand their business! We will be in touch with our ORCA members directly regarding organic grain demand and planning for the next season based on this demand. If you are interested in being an ORCA supplier – make sure you contact us at email@example.com (and join ORICoop!)
The three components of the ORICA Phase 1 investment project include:-
Have you heard about ORICoop? We are ambitiously frustrated by the barriers across organic supply chains. For both producers and for buyers, manufacturers and those building strong organic brands. As a National Organic Cooperative – we believe that together we are stronger and can overcome these barriers through a more coordinated and sophisticated approach. Come and join our growing network of over 200 organic producer members. Across States, Commodities and different farming and business systems.
You can join HERE – https://www.organicinvestmentcooperative.com.au/membership/. And include your business in our Member Directory.
As an ORICoop member you get access to:-
Any questions regarding ORICoop membership please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can keep up with our latest news via our blog here – https://www.organicinvestmentcooperative.com.au/blog/
Until next time,
The ORICoop Team
The Australian Organic Market Report (AOMR) 2023 was published last week and the ORICoop team would like to share some insight into the high growth and export potential for Australian organics – and particularly the massive potential of the organic grain industry in Australia
Key update from Organic and Regenerative Investment Co-operative (ORICoop)
ORICoop (Organic & Regenerative Investment Cooperative) has released the details of the ORCA investment project. A project seeded by 5 key organic producers in the Riverina. And has grown into a substantial National project incorporating producers from the Riverina, the Malle to South Australia and stretching to key producers in the Western Australian wheat belt. This has provided a significant understanding of the existing barriers and potential innovative solutions to relocalise organic, sustainable and regenerative grain, to lessen the footprint of grains across the industry and to understand the health benefits of organic food with more transparency and vitality for consumers and farmers alike.
ORCA is the first Farmer Owned organic grain brand. Led by ORICoop, a National Producers Cooperative, that seeks to do business differently. Farmer Led. Business Driven. With Sustainability front and centre in how to grow and diversify markets across the organic sector.
The Australian Organic Market report outlines the increasing demand for clean and green food. With the industry growing 14% year on year and with an increased opportunity to capture these strong markets that are health conscious, sustainably focused, and value the on-farm stewardship practices.
“Across southern Australia there are incredibly innovative grain producers. Managing a diverse climate ranging from highly productive irrigation land in the Riverina, to marginal light sandy country in the Mallee and the Western Australian wheat belt” shares Carolyn, ORICoop Executive Director. To enable these producers to capture the best markets these producers require a diverse mix of market opportunities from livestock feed through to high end premium grain markets. That enables producers to capture premium markets, spread their risk, and to work closely with manufacturers and bulk buyers that are seeking reliable, high quality Australian grown organic grains for their retail products, for a growing and lucrative market.
Through the ORCA seed project funded by Sustainable Table, ORICoop understands what is being grown, what the challenges to these markets are, and where there are better and more profitable markets from the farm gate. One of the key aspects of this project was to identify not just the market barriers – but also the physical barriers in terms of storage, processing and manufacturing capacity for organic products.
The project enables ORICoop to demonstrate how organic grain has specific requirements and why the existing commodity based grain supply chain doesn’t support organic producers. Both in terms of size, capacity and the interest in single origin or select organic grain types for domestic and export.
The next stage for the ORCA project is to co-design and build tailored bespoke infrastructure that is well suited for this mix of grain products that are in high demand from business. That reduces the footprint of the grain industry. And provides a higher level of sustainability and integrity from the farm to the end consumer.
‘‘Just this week we received another export enquiry – for over 50,000T of premium organic grain. That is more than is grown across the whole country currently!’ says Carolyn Suggate, Founder and Director of ORICoop. “What we need is a coordinated approach to sustainably build out the industry and to capture these strong domestic and export markets that value the clean and green food that organic producers are growing. And builds the capacity for more growers to expand their organic enterprises, increase their profitability while diversifying their risk with mixed crop selections.”
Investment into this area must be tailored to the needs of the industry. It is not one size that fits all. It’s bespoke infrastructure and technology, with catalytic capital that is innovative, patient and understands the downside risk of our dependence on large commodity based food and farming systems.
The Australian Organic Industry now covers more than 55M hectares of land, with more land certified in Australia than any country or continent in the world. And the Organic industry is valued at over $2.1B according to the latest market report.
As a National Producer Cooperative we are member based, and our values deeply align with producers and our end buyers. ORICoop invests back into the industry, providing business services to producers with the best potential for strong markets. And sharing the upside value of the supply chain with our network as a National Cooperative. To build out domestic and export markets, spread the risk and expand the opportunity for mutual collective benefit. That is a true Cooperative!
“The time is now for a new paradigm of investing, where growth is not the main indicator for success, but instead we see transformational ecological, social and cultural changes at the pace necessary to arrest the impact of climate.”
Chair, Sustainable Table,
Executive Director, Morris Family Foundation
“The Australian Organic sector is a strong contributor to the Australian economy, representing 0.04% GDP and contributing $851M directing and over $2.6 flow on effects. Australia has 70% of the global land under certified organic management, boosting 53 million hectares and farming revenue expected to nearly triple in the next five years. Our organic sector continues to grow year on year and there is still so much more potential to be realized”
Chief Executive Officer,
Australian Organic Limited
“Michael Coleman, the lawyer working with ORICoop on the investment, sees the ORCA fund as part of the development of more diverse options for investors interested in both profit and sustainability. “Institutional and professional investors are like all of us in seeing and generally welcoming the market’s shift towards technology, innovation and sustainability. Innovative investment options are cropping up everywhere, from retail superannuation funds to private syndicates to click-to-join carbon offset apps. ORICoop as a member-based, not-for-profit organisation is well placed to meet this demand. The ORCA fund is innovative, but it meets the fundamentals – it will own tangible assets that will be directly used by the organic producers the organisation exists to serve, and generate a return for both members and investors.”
‘The ORICoop ORCA project is tailor-made to bring together organic producers to develop an organic food supply chain that will benefit all Australians and overseas consumers. The development of ORCA seems very timely in a world where high quality, certified and healthy food is produced and delivered in a reliable and cost- effective manner.’
Partner, Audit & Assurance
Thomas, Noble & Russell (TNR)
ORICoop represents businesses across Australia that are interested in tapping into the world of healthy, planet friendly, sustainable food and farming systems. Enabling food and agriculture to provide resilience and profitability in our regional economies. To lessen the footprint in our production systems. And to increase the profitability and market capacity for organic and sustainable food into domestic and export markets. We invite you to complete an Expression of Interest to get involved in our mission.
To find out more or register for the EOI see link here https://organicinvestmentcooperative.com.au/invest/
0448 778 074
Images are available upon request
Located just north of the Great Eastern Highway, approximately 1.5 hours’ drive east of Perth, Jodi and Ian James have established a thriving farm with multiple species companion cropping in the golden outback town of Meckering. Located on the traditional lands of the Ballardong Nyoongar people, the township of Meckering derives its name from an Aboriginal language and means ‘place of water’ or ‘moon on water’, and it is precisely this substance that led to the expansion of farmland in the area. Ian and Jodi’s farm is called Whare Koa, a Maori name meaning ‘happy home’.
Ian’s family were originally farming further north in the more marginal areas of the Wheatbelt, when as part of his farming education he traveled overseas on Agricultural Exchange to Sweden. While on exchange, he was badly injured in a severe car accident, totally disrupting his life. Ian spent a few years recovering overseas before making the decision to return home.
At this time in the early 1990s, he first heard about the potential impacts of climate change in the early 1990s. Climate predictions indicated that weather patterns and temperatures were to get drier and hotter, with the frequency, intensity and duration of hot spells likely to impact the landscape and the human and agricultural systems dependent on it. In a candid conversation with his father, Ian explained, “if it gets any drier or hotter here, we’re done for. We’ve got to buy land south before it gets too expensive.”
Shortly afterwards, the family purchased farmland in Meckering 200 km south, it was decided that Ian should settle on the Meckering farm while his mother and father would stay on the northern property for some years before later selling and retiring from farming.
The Meckering landscape is largely comprised of sand plains, flat with rolling shallow broad valleys and peppered with creeks. Ian refers to the low inherent fertility of the sands as ‘light country’, lacking the nutrients necessary to produce a healthy strong crop with sufficient yields. This is typically addressed in conventional systems by applying considerable doses of synthetic fertiliser. However, the quick draining habit of sandy soils makes it hard for the soil to hold onto the fertilisers applied.
“Fertilisers and chemicals are a mask. They’re just putting into the soil what the crop needs, but the soil is being robbed of what sustains it: organic matter and biological diversity,” says Ian.
When they first began farming in Meckering in the late 1990s, the James’ were following conventional best practice but they began to realise the limitations of this approach in such low-nutrient soil. By the time Jodi and Ian were married, it was becoming obvious that the intensification of land use under conventional cropping methods and long-term fertiliser application was depleting their soil further. Their farm lacked the scale to justify the investment in the large agricultural machinery and equipment necessary to support a conventional farming enterprise that would turn a modest profit. Yet their smaller equipment was turning their daily farming grind into a harder operation than it should be, and they were struggling to get through their routine farming activities.
After experiencing a couple of consecutive dry seasons, Ian could no longer ignore the changes in climatic conditions and their impact on their farming system and finances. The hotter seasons were becoming drier, the wet seasons shorter, and their struggles intensified with the cumulative effects of drier conditions, poor-quality soils and the low resilience of plants. Neighbouring farmers imparted their advice, “you need to spend more money on fertilisers and chemicals.”
Cultivating opportunity from crisis
Ian and Jodi were already spending more money on chemical inputs than what they were earning, sliding deeper into debt with each passing year. A particularly bad year placed them on the precipice of financial ruin while their input bill had blown out beyond viability. Farming to the very brink of possibility and liability within a conventional agricultural system and failing to get sufficient yields in return, Jodi decided to explore a way in which to farm without the added cost of increasingly expensive inputs. Coming close to crisis instigated an ongoing pursuit of knowledge for organic and regenerative agricultural techniques and soil biology.
“It was tough at first, but we were committed to learning. We adapted, trialled and discovered new techniques,” recalls Ian.
With an imperative to secure the future of their farm, Ian and Jodi selected methods to improve soil health and fertility and reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers. Conversion to organic became a process of experimentation, observation, learning and reflection.
“Every year, our farm is improving, and it’s improving exponentially. Every year we see this low-fertility country getting stronger and stronger naturally. And we can see it visually: it darkens with the carbon. Organic soil carbon is the foundation of soil fertility.”
This experiential knowledge of building natural soil fertility was key to reducing their farm’s exposure to volatile input prices and ensuring their farm’s survival.
“One by one, farms around us were sold,” recalls Ian.
The issues he had noticed affected the whole industry.
“Many families in the district left farming and were gradually replaced by bigger operations, but we’re still here. Many of the farmers who said to me that we were going to go broke [pursuing organic agriculture] are now gone.”
Together, Ian and Jodi are continuing and improving the regeneration of their farming landscape. They employ multi-species cropping methods, planting grass crops, plus oats, rye, wheat, and also lupins and approximately three or four other species of legumes. Planting diverse and beneficial plants provides a food source for a broader range of soil biology, lifting the resilience and fertility of the land, improving the soil function, structure and water-holding capacity and continuing to value-add to the productivity of the landscape.
“The soil was pretty highly degraded because of past practices, but it has responded amazingly to biology and lupins love it. We worked out organics suits light land farming, and lupins in particular as part of a multi-species cropping program are the key to it. Lupins are yielding about twice as much as grass crops.”
For the love of lupins- the real regenerative legume
With over 200 species, lupins are grown in a wide array of regions across the globe, ranging from the Mediterranean to the southwestern United States, northern Mexico to both eastern and western parts of Australia. Two varieties of lupin are most commonly grown in Australia, with the majority of lupin production occurring in the winter/spring rain-fed parts of southwestern Western Australia. As a high-protein grain, it is commonly grown and harvested for human and animal consumption, yet it also holds many advantages in both cropping and mixed cropping–livestock farming systems.
Lupins produce a significant nitrogen contribution for subsequent crops and can increase the availability of phosphorus in soils. They provide a disease break for cereal crops and can help control grass weeds within cropping sequences. Other benefits include improved soil structure, increased water use efficiency of subsequent crops, and increased yields of cereals following lupin crop rotation, particularly when grown in sandy soils.
“Lupins are a fantastic tool for an organic farmer, because chemical nitrogen, although widely available and fairly cheap, is not an organic substance. It kills biology and basically destroys sustainably. Whereas lupins create a perfect environment for other crops to grow, like grass crops,” notes Ian.
A member of the pea family, lupins produce an assorted palette of pea-like flowers with bold spikes of vibrant purples, pinks and blues, rich reds and yellows, or crisp, clean whites. When the lupins come into bloom on Jodi and Ian’s farm, the whole paddock is transformed into a sea of brilliant white. When pulled from the ground, the symbiotic relationship between lupins and the nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria rhizobia is visually evident in the small nodules that form around the plant’s roots. The increase in microbial activity and associated improvement in soil structure also maximises the retention of moisture in the soil, an important element in building the adaptive capacity of their farm in light of shorter wetter seasons and climatic variability.
In addition to a healthier farm, Ian and Jodi are now spending a lot less on (organic) farm inputs while receiving a price premium for their organic products. Ian estimates that a conventional farmer would have to produce roughly four times their yield to make the same profit.
Finding solutions to systemic industry problems
While Ian and Jodi have generated many on-farm improvements, limitations in existing organic industry structures and networks made it difficult to access markets within Australia to sell their lupins. While a few organic dairy farmers within Western Australia were purchasing their lupins to form part of their animal feed, Western Australia has a relatively small organic domestic market when compared to the eastern states. Ian discovered that the supply chain for many organic products is relatively undeveloped, particularly for many broadacre products, and there are significant problems relating to a lack of scale in the handling of grains.
Freight costs to the eastern states were also proving to be prohibitively high, particularly with the additional financial pressure points that COVID-19 and the energy crisis have added. Ian and Jodi were looking at a freight bill that amounted to two-thirds of their total farm gate price for their lupins, making it non viable to sell their product into the Eastern States.
The ORCA project endeavours to unlock some of these barriers by looking at better market opportunities for organic producers that allow more resilient profitability and increase the transparency of these grains direct from farm to end processor. The wider connections and network facilitated by the ORCA project allowed Ian and Jodi to interact with other producers and processors to tap into demand for their lupins and organise a shipping chain that was affordable and viable. ORCA has now facilitated its first shipment of over 100 tonnes of organic lupins from Western Australia to Melbourne and Brisbane. And the original ORCA Riverina project has been expanded to include ORCA producers in Western Australia thanks to funding from the Sustainable Table Fund
Another barrier endemic to the Western Australian organic industry is a lack of processors suitable for organic grains. Western Australia only contributes around 10 percent of the total Australian production of organic livestock, vegetable, fruit and grains, so the current demand is not high enough for processors to warrant the costs associated with organic management and certification for processors. Whereas organic agricultural production and demand are much higher across the Eastern States.“Through ORCA’s assistance, we’ve managed to tap into that processor capacity which is available in the east,” says Ian.
He believes these supply chain bottlenecks can be overcome through greater collaboration and investment.
“We need to band together as organic farmers in an organised manner to share and leverage our capital and asset base and share the costs and organisational capacity to set up processing and storage capacity and store grains in a way where our premium organic product is not going to deteriorate.”
“We have to be able to attract government assistance and strategic investment, get organised, and work together to set up suitable infrastructure and put the structures in place, so we can delegate management to people who hold expertise in these [processing and value-adding] techniques and skills and put those people into places, so we (producers) can get back to the business of farming. ORCA enables us to do just that”
The future lies in farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange
Ian believes that local farmer knowledge is a valuable resource to reorient modern agriculture towards more sustainable and resilient paths of development and draw in the next generation of farmers. A lot of this knowledge has been lost over time with the spreading of the conventional agricultural paradigm and the standardised, highly industrialised external input solutions it puts forth. Rebuilding formal and informal knowledge exchange and learning between farmers is central to strengthening agricultural sustainability and resilience.
Innovative farmers like Ian and Jodi are using high-performance organic and regenerative landscape management methods and fighting the trend of the continued degradation of the landscape and soil through conventional agricultural methods with their heavy reliance on external inputs. They are demonstrating sustainable, regenerative practices on their land, as are many organic, biodynamic and regenerative farmers across Australia. With relevant policies and incentives, these practices could be extended successfully and quickly to involve a significant number of Australia’s current and next-generation farmers. Whilst there are always opportunities to learn more, enough is already known to take action now.
“The real wealth we have is our knowledge. And we can share that with the next generation and with current farmers that are frustrated by their lack of market access and price premiums. That’s what we should be doing as farmers. That’s how we can capture the value of organic farming: by focusing the energy into teaching the next generation and current farmers.”
Written by Eva Perroni as part of the ORCA project