Transparency and technology the key for organic grain producers

Transparency and technology the key for organic grain producers

Ray Penfold and his family Jessie (7), Matilda (11), Quade (10), Amanda (11).

Location: Quandialla and Condobolin, Central West NSW

Produce: Certified organic oats and barley, conventional cropping and livestock (Merino sheep, Hereford-Angus cross cattle)

Ruth and Ray Penfold and their families have been farming for generations. Their current business structure has been in operation since 2011.

Following severe drought, they moved to certified organic cereal cropping in 2021 and have just delivered their first harvests this year. However, even within their conventional operations, Ruth and Ray already farm in a fairly regenerative manner, avoiding sprays wherever possible, using certified organic and natural fertilisers. They also focus heavily on soil health to boost crop production and improve the quality and diversity of feed available for their merino sheep and Hereford-Angus cross cattle.

“Fundamentally we want to farm in a better way so that our kids have got a viable business moving forward, and if you can look after your soil, it grows the grass for your livestock, it grows your crop for your grain, so you have to look after it,” Ruth said.

As newcomers to organic farming, they have joined ORICoop, a National Organic Producers Cooperative, that enables producers to build more resilient markets while enabling investment into supply chain barriers.  Ruth and Ray have taken part in the ORCA project, which has received funding from Sustainable Table Fund, to understand the barriers for new and experienced organic grain producers across the Riverina, and to identify strategic pathways to a more transparent and profitable outcome for producers.

“I like the fact we can send grain down direct to the farmer, and you’re also dealing with another farmer on the buyer’s side who are also trying to have a sustainable business for their kids moving forward as well,” Ruth said.

“I really like what ORICoop and ORCA is looking to achieve, and we’ve already sent a few loads through the new process. From an organics producers’ mind, the feed market is such a big industry, and where do you start if you don’t have the contacts as a beginner? Through conversations and a workshop, I got in touch with Carolyn from ORICoop, and understood what ORICoop is trying to achieve through the ORCA project. This is a game changer especially for someone new coming into the market.”

Ruth and Ray live in a marginal area, so they need to be mindful of what they grow and when.  And make the most of each market.

daughter holding wheat

1st certified organic wheat grains held in our daughter’s hands.

“We’ve been fully certified since 2021, last year’s crop for us was our first certified crop. We had a good growing season, above average rainfall. We are in a marginal area in central NSW you get more dry years than wet years, and last year was just unbelievable as far as the rain that fell, the rain continued when we were ready to harvest, there were a lot of downgrades,” Ruth said.

“We are open to trialing different crops should there be a market for specific crops that also align with seasonal conditions.’ Cereals, particularly wheat, oats and barley, are well-suited to our rotation. Our oats and barley are very easy to grow, and if you’ve got a failed crop you’ve got options, particularly when you are a mixed enterprise, you’ve got livestock to graze off or hay for either stockfeed or sale. Sunflowers would be on our radar if seasons permit, however with sunflowers they aren’t multi purpose they only have one purpose – sale. That’s why we’re just with the cereals at the moment, and we’re also new to the organic industry, we need to find our feet, establish a network and diversify our risk.

ORCA is also undertaking grain storage and processing potential for organic farmers in the Riverina region, which Ruth sees as being important to addressing some of the other key challenges organic grain and cereal producers face.

“The biggest downfall with being certified for us is grain storage, you have to have good grain storage, and it has been an achilles for us, so we have invested in on-farm storage this year. If ORCA are able to provide grain storage it would certainly help – we would still invest in further on-farm storage in due course, but instead of having the capital outlay of $200,000 to $300,000 in the short term, it gives producers the ability to keep growing and expanding or being able to capitalise on good seasonal conditions.” Ruth said.

“Definitely for us, the storage facility would encourage us to increase our certified country, knowing that we can then transport our certified grain to the storage site in southern NSW, it’s closer to the end market. The additional storage site would be of benefit to our business in the immediate future. If we were to diversify into other crops, like sunflowers, then the processing side would also be a big benefit to us. We also know other producers in the Riverina, where the processing side would be of benefit to them as opposed to the storage, so the combination of the two is fantastic.”

A key part of ORCA is transparency, ensuring consumers and buyers are getting high quality, ethically-grown products, as well as ensuring farmers receive fair pricing for their produce.

“The whole paddock to plate is incredibly important for the transparency of the industry, and it is just the way everything will go,” Ruth said.

Our two big things are transparency, and understanding the story of the buyer, the feel-good warm fuzzy moment of knowing you’re selling to a mum-and-dad dairy farm that are trying to do the same as you, provide a cleaner product and future for your kids. Being able to understand the processor’s requirements and then being able to grow that grain, knowing you have a market for your product just makes good business sense.”

To enquire about bulk organic grain requirements you can contact ORCA directly or via email admin@organicinvestmentcooperative.com.au

Story written by Amanda Sproule

The ORCA project is grateful for the seed funding from The Sustainable Table Fund.

oat field newly sowed

Organic Oats. Last lap of sowing. 16th April 2022

oat field enjoys rain

2022 Organic Oats. Enjoyed the rain and also the next sunny warmer days.

How to ensure your carbon credits are worth the investment

How to ensure your carbon credits are worth the investment

With recent questions over the legitimacy of the Australian carbon offset scheme, it’s never been more important that carbon emissions are offset with legitimate credits and are free of greenwashing.

Unfortunately, few offerings in the market consider the natural environmental variables faced by the landowners generating the credits, and have the data transparency and accuracy required to inspire confidence that the investment is actually achieving its drawdown goal.

But the recently-released Eco-Credit by ORICoop is addressing many of these key issues in the current carbon offset market.

The farmer-owned credits are backed by extensive data collection and have been developed in accordance with the conditions, biodiversity and operations of each farm they’re provided by. Their transparency of data and the ability to directly purchase Eco-Credits from each farm means investors avoid the greenwashing associated with other carbon credit offerings.

ORICoop EO Carolyn Suggate said ‘All farms are assessed as to their suitability for the program, based on their existing farming practices, the area of the farm and the intentions of future management.’

“We don’t want producers to be at risk from any carbon credit program, to overstate their carbon drawdown, or to be exposed by a natural disaster or severe weather event should the carbon levels in their soil or biodiversity decrease,” Ms Suggate said.

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These limits are a key part of the design- providing investor security, and lessening the risk of overstating any values, especially following farming challenges or natural disasters that can negatively impact soil carbon improvement efforts such as the extensive flooding occurring throughout NSW and QLD recently.

“Through a collective of the credits, ORICoop’s specialist advisory committee oversees each of the credit applications and validation reports. This includes assessing the management practices, the land management zones, the footprint of the farm business plus the soil testing and results. For each project we determine suitable buffers that enable producers to bank a portion of their credits – the credits are validated annually, and depending on buffer limits, a portion is liquidated at the producer’s discretion,” Ms Suggate said.

Each Eco-Credit represents 1 tonne of CO2 drawdown, in addition the credits represent measures each local organic producer has undertaken to actively improve soil carbon, water efficiency and biodiversity within their properties and farming practices.

Michael Coleman, Managing Director of Box Forest Consulting, said the costly setup and operating design of the ACCU market may be resulting in poor outcomes for both producers and investors.

“If it turns out that ACCU projects are not delivering contracted reductions, despite high costs of participation, that’s the worst of both worlds. Hopefully the regulator will improve market integrity, and not just by adding more layers of consultant reports,” Mr Coleman said.

“A simpler, more transparent certification process, with low verification costs, can also offer greater integrity. Certification gets done and reported in a way all users understand and accept. Voluntary Carbon Markets (VCM) should be designed with that in mind, which is what ORICoop has set out to achieve.”

Iain Smale, of Pangolin & Associates, said the Eco Credit will be popular for investors by providing other options for carbon credits which also offer a local impact, which is especially important given per-capita carbon emissions in Australia are amongst some of the highest in the world.

“With the Eco-Credit, you’re having a bigger environmental impact than just a carbon credit,” he said.

The environmental impact of our producer operations is key for Australian-owned organic dairy processor & manufacturer Paris Creek Farms. Paris Creek Farms’ Marketing & Communications Manager Alex Donovan said they are committed to increasing the sustainability of their operations, actively working with their producers to achieve this with Eco-Credits initially playing a vital part.

“With bio-dynamic and organic practices, we’re already using one of the most sustainable and regenerative methods of farming in the world, but we are striving to be even more sustainable. Our ultimate goal is to have our farmers generating their own Eco-Credits,” Ms Donovan said.

Ms Suggate said there are many ways the agriculture sector is transitioning beyond net-zero, and that collaboration to improve trust, legitimacy and the urgency for improving how sustainably we produce food is vital, especially after considering the ‘business as usual’ impact on the environment and the urgency of our changing climate as seen recently by some of the worst floods in history.

“We need science to be well funded to enable technology to be more accessible and trusted across the industry. This includes the measurement capability, satellite data, plus legitimate footprint data for farms across all commodities,” Ms Suggate said.

“In the meantime, our organic farming ORICoop members are dedicated to measuring and validating their soil tests and farm footprint. As their credits are validated, these producers form part of the organic farming ecosystem that invests into best practice, research and sustainability programs through a legitimate farmer-led carbon credit based on international guidelines,” she said.

“That includes soil carbon and biodiversity, rewarding producers for sustainable land stewardship practices, while offering these credits to businesses looking to offset their carbon footprint with legitimate credits that are traceable back to each farm that has generated them.”

If your business is committed to achieving net-zero, offset your carbon emissions directly with credits you can trust – register here now.

What is your carbon footprint?

What is your carbon footprint?

The Organic and Regenerative Investment Co-operative (ORICoop) is focussed on bringing together farmers, friends and businesses for the better. ORICoop exists to increase the productivity and profitability of organically and regeneratively managed land in Australia, while supporting farmers to be better land stewards of our ecological farming systems. We support organic and biodynamic farms to transition their agricultural businesses for the better. This builds a more resilient Australian food and farming economy that can change the way our farmers do business … for the long term.

WHAT IS THE CARBON FOOTPRINT OF YOUR BUSINESS?

We are excited to announce the creation of a direct Business-to-Farm carbon and ecological offset.

The Eco-Credit™

Bringing together farmers interested to drawdown carbon – and in the process offset the carbon footprint of business.  Eco-Credits™ are a credible and definable instrument to measure ecological health, whilst enabling business to OFFSET their carbon footprint.  A true WIN-WIN between conscious businesses and ecological farm stewards, that supports our planet for the long term better.

ORICoop has created Eco-Credits™ so conscious businesses and individuals can offset their carbon footprint, with direct, measurable and tangible outcomes. Eco-Credits™ are deployed to selected organic farmers who commit Eco-Credits™ to their farmland.  These credits are independently and annually verified using the latest technology and measurement parameters.  Each business receives a report provided by the collective of farm contributors each year – detailing what the Eco-Credit™ collective outcome has achieved in terms of carbon offset and ecological health.

 Purchase Eco-Credit’s here

Eco-Credits™ – ‘An ecological and farmer driven market instrument that offers a pathway to a stronger and more robust organic farming industry.  That is empowered to withstand market pressures on farm production systems, together with sustainable and measured outcomes.  Demonstrated via shorter supply chains, better food security, reliable market data, and a transparent market that enables farmers to achieve the best value for their work.’

The Vision:-

  • Vitalise capital to connect business, food and farming for better long term outcomes
  • Enable farmers to benefit from the value of natural capital in their farming systems
  • Connect business and individual carbon offsets directly to farmers
  • Align with accredited stewardship measures and outcomes

 

HOW CAN FARMERS REGISTER FOR the ECO-CREDIT™ PROGRAM?

Farmers around Australia have a massive opportunity to draw down carbon into their farms both above and below ground through best practice ecological stewardship. Farmers can be rewarded for improving the land that they manage, and the carbon that is sequestered terrestrially via biodiversity enrichment and through an increase in soil organic carbon.  Eco-Credits™ are deployed directly to organic and regenerative farmers – that are committed to increase the amount of carbon stored in their soil and to honour the value of water, soil, ecological health and biodiversity in their organic and agroecological farming systems.

Key measurable outcomes of Eco-Credits™ include:

  • Increase in sequestered carbon in soil, trees and biomass
  • Increase in biodiversity quality, area and ecosystem health
  • Healthier soils and water
  • Increase in birdlife and endangered wildlife
  • Permanency and verifiable
  • Market Transformational
  • Environmental and social co-benefits

Organic farms can REGISTER HERE for the next Eco-Credit project

Bushfire Recovery in the midst for these farmers

Bushfire Recovery in the midst for these farmers

The Organic & Regenerative Investment Cooperative kicked off the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal with the fires in November 2020.  What started as a $12,000 load of hay to NSW bushfire affected farmers has grown into a significant appeal. Now capturing more than $324,000 (including financial, donations & in-kind support) in value, this has directly benefited each of the bushfire affected organic farmers in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia!  

Collectively between supportive organic farmers, best practice organic advisors, volunteer teams, our bushfire committee and donors, ORICoop has brought together a band of knowledge, experience and learnings. This network can only enhance the long term resilience and benefit of the organic industry.  We thank each of you – and we are not finished yet!

Breakdown of $324,000 raised (and mostly distributed) bushfire appeal funds so far includes:-

  • $89,000 cash raised
  • $28,907 donated organic inputs
  • $72,000 donated organic fodder
  • $14,611 freight subsidy (fodder)
  • $85,000 donated professional time
  • $35,000 donated volunteer coordination

Best Practice Organic Farm Expertise

For many of the bushfire affected farmers – the best ‘value’ of the Appeal, has been their appointed volunteer bushfire recovery consultant.  They have walked through the biology (courtesy of AgPath) and soil nutrient (EAL) tests with each farmer.  From this data they identified the effect of the bushfires and the needs of their farm recovery.  Together with ascertaining the physical damage and parameters using a Visual Soil Assessment and photos, these farmers are now on their road to recovery.  Though the journey ahead is likely to be long and hard, the farmers won’t be walking alone.

Donated organic inputs

We would like to pay tribute to the organic input providers that have generously supported this Appeal.  These are all organically certified products – and each has been tailored to the needs of these farms and their recovery.  

Where to from here?

The Bushfire Committee is currently finalising the last of the applications for the Appeal and putting in place plans for ongoing support of the fire affected farmers.  Now with the COVID-19 restrictions easing, the Committee is looking forward to finalising plans around bushfire recovery workshops and volunteer projects.  

Volunteering opportunities

ORICoop has a need for volunteers to assist with the following (depending on the COVID-19 restrictions of course)

  • Coordinated tree planting days
  • Native tree fundraisers in your region
  • Native animal box making
  • Weed blitz days
  • Bushfire recovery workshop coordination
  • Marketing assistance
  • Volunteer Coordination assistance

Register to be a volunteer HERE

Fundraising and community networking

Contact us if you are interested in hosting a community fundraiser – with funds to support bushfire affected organic farmers in your closest region.  ORICoop is keen to see these farmers be supported for the long term.  For some this is going to take months to years to recover.  Ongoing community support for these farmers to continue is very important.  Some of the farms have lost 30-40% of their orchards, with much of the bushland and wildlife destroyed.  Many have lost infrastructure not least fencing, thousands of metres of irrigation and annual fodder stores.

Farmers tell their stories

We look forward to sharing more about these farmers, and their courageous stories of resilience and recovery.  Christine Watts and Kym Green joined Carolyn, talking about the Bushfire Appeal as part of the Farming Secrets Summit HERE    Both of these farmers show much courage and grit from the devastation they felt.  And the heart behind their farming choices.

You can also catch up with more stories around the Bushfires, in our upcoming BioLogical Journal.  And you can follow our Instagram page HERE.

Stay Well – and now more than ever, support your local organic farmers!  

(photos supplied by Kym Green – credit to Nutri-Soil for their generous donations!)

Post Bushfire Recovery – It starts under our feet

Post Bushfire Recovery – It starts under our feet

The stories are shadowed right now by COVID – 19, but we know these bushfire affected farmers are rising from the ashes, and their resilience will be a shining light to all of us.  We are thinking of the regional communities affected by bushfires, and their impending risk and impact of the virus on their people and place. May strength and resilience be our friends through these uncertain times.

As these farmers take stock and move forward with their recovery journey – it has been incredible to see the photos of the greening orchards, the response to the rains, and natures’ assurance of ‘it’s going to be ok’.  And how the environment has a way of it’s own in recovery, some of which we don’t give her credit for. At least not to the extent we should!

The great outcome from the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal, has been connecting some of the leading biological and organic consultants together, to nut out the best process and plan for recovery for these organic farmers.  As these farmers recover, we look forward to sharing their stories, and the journey of their soil, farm and businesses being restored.

The first steps to recovery for any farm post bushfires, or other natural disasters is assessment.  Both physically, biologically, and above the ground.

All these farmers have been encouraged to follow this process, outlined by Gerhard HERE.  These steps can be followed by any farmers looking to become more aware of the biological strengths and weaknesses of their soils.  These key steps include:-

Once these tests are done – you can put all three together to obtain an accurate picture of the effects of the bushfire, both on the biological response, and the nutrient load or bank.  It has been really interesting seeing these results come through for each of the bushfire affected farmers. And the diversity of farm systems (all organic), together with the expertise of the farmers themselves (some with more than 30 years of experience in organic farm systems), with the biological consultants.  If you are interested to engage with any of these specialist consultants, you can contact us directly and we will put you in touch.  You can also join the Organic & Biodynamic Farmers Facebook group – to ask any questions of your fellow farmers.

I was privileged to join a call between Gerhard Grasser and Greg Paynter, both pioneers and long term supporters of the organic industry.  Highly experienced in soil agronomy, biological principles, organic standards and sustainable growing systems. Together they discussed the latest soil and biology tests for each of the farmers, the way that the Bushfire Appeal funds could be best utilised to get the most efficiency from the existing nutrients from the results, and to restore the biology to support the tree and soil systems over the long term.It is so clear that there is not one single answer.  That every farm is different. That every farmer has a different response.  The one aspect that is clear – is that together we are better. Together when farmers can share their stories of fire affected pastures and orchards, when leading consultants can liaise together to learn from each other’s strengths – that is when our industry has the opportunity to grow and prosper.  We look forward to fostering that. More and more.

ORICoop is proud to have stepped forward to assist these farmers in their hour of darkness.  And we will put together these stories as case studies for future farmers to use. And we hope that with each natural disaster, we can build case studies of resilience, or ways that farmers have used natural means to work with nature, and to see restoration as a journey, not a destination.

If you are a bushfire affected organic or biodynamic farmer – make sure you have applied to the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal.  Due to COVID-19, it has been agreed that the Appeal applications will close mid-April.  So the funds raised can offer direct assistance to those that need it.  And see their farms through recovery. As much as possible.

** We would like to take this moment to thank all our biological consultants for their efforts to date.  Offering pro-bono support to these bushfire affected farmers.  And to EAL and AgPath for offering their soil & biology tests at cost to these affected farmers (cost covered by bushfire appeal funds).

In conclusion.  It’s with a heavy heart that we announce the postponement of our ALL volunteering events for bushfire affected farmers until further notice.   We are saddened to have cancelled all the volunteer projects in the pipeline – due to COVID-19 risk.  

The overriding need for ORICoop is to display social responsibility and enact the Ethic of Care for People, both those volunteering and the affected farmers. The idea of spending time around other people practicing social distancing on farm volunteer weekends, cooking and eating dinners together and close proximity is too complex and risky for all.  And really… no contact affects much of the intention and purpose of our volunteer projects. We are really sorry. Both to the hundreds of keen volunteers, but mostly to the bushfire affected farmers, that were all looking forward to hosting these projects, and seeing works done in their road to recovery.

Thanks to the many good folk that helped promote these events and we’ll be back in touch with some alternative dates in the springtime.  Thanks especially to Penny & Amy, for all their work in pre-planning and promotion of these events.  

We are all in this together. Thank a farmer for your next meal!  Share this blog with your friends – we are stronger together.

Carolyn & ORICoop Team.