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Organic farm where land, not yield, comes first

Organic farm where land, not yield, comes first
The Henderson family has owned and operated North Canterbury’s 302-hectare Milmore Downs in the Scargill valley since 1960.

As much as New Zealand is famous for being the clean, green Shangri-La, growing rhetoric suggests that reputation has been muddied and is less deserved.

North Canterbury organic-biodynamic farmer Ian Henderson agrees.

“We probably were pretty green and clean once upon a time – but we are definitely much less so now. The fault lies to a large degree with modern intensive agriculture. Organics and biodynamics provide a practical alternative.”

He says that as time goes on we will increasingly realise that it is actually an imperative – partly because the environment will be pressing us to change.

But, he says, our world markets are also constantly greening and if we want to keep marketing our products on the world stage, we are going to need to do something serious to meet their requirements.

The Henderson family has owned and operated North Canterbury’s Milmore Downs in the Scargill valley since Ian’s parents bought the 302-hectare property in 1960.

In 1978 Ian converted the farm to biodynamics, receiving Demeter certification from the Biodynamic Farming Association in 1983 and BioGro certification three years later.

“Our Demeter registration is 002, the second in the country,” says Ian.

“The BioGro certification number 019 shows that the farm was also one of the organic pioneers. It’s not only been established but recognised as a functioning organic-biodynamic farm for quite a long time now.”

Ian and wife Eva now farm Milmore Downs in conjunction with Ian’s son Matthew and his wife Alice.

A diverse operation, Milmore Downs is a livestock/cropping farm, with 1000 ewes, about 200 cattle and around 50 hectares in crop.

“Cropping is predominantly cereals – wheat, barley, oats and rye, and we have grown lentils. That’s the main thrust at the moment, though a number of other crops could well be added to the mix in the future.”

The stock is completely integrated into the farming system and Eva says that every part of the farm works for the other part.

It’s a different approach to farming, where production is optimised rather than maximised.

That means, for example, sacrificing high yields by not using bag nitrogen. The benefit is that production is biodynamic and the waterways are not polluted with nutrient run-off.

Except for steep land, a crop rotation with an eight-year cycle goes right around the farm.

“When the crop produces straw, the straw is harvested, baled off and fed back to the cattle on grassland. That grassland will go back into crop later. So there is rotating fertility,” says Ian.

“There are break crops in between the cereals.” With all the machinery to produce flour, including four small mills, the entire processing is done on-farm.

There is also an online shop where the farm’s produce is sold to people looking for organically grown meat and grain products (www. milmoreowns.co.nz).

While it is advisable to phone first, Eva and Ian say people are always welcome to visit, as this helps forge a connection between production and consumption.

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