Organic vegie and fruit growers discussion group a resounding success

By the Western Port Catchment Landcare Network

The latest ‘Australian Organic Market Report’ reveals the nation’s organic industry is worth $1.72 billion, and growing by over 15 percent each year. This has created challenges for organic farmers who are trying to meet the increasing demand.

Pete Ronalds is the sustainable agriculture manager with the Western Port Catchment Landcare Network and supports farmers in the Port Philip and Western Port regions in Victoria through National Landcare Programme funding.

Several organic farmers suggested to Pete there was a lack of opportunities for them to share ideas and learn from other organic farmers. An initial meeting was held on an organic vegetable farm in February 2015, and attracted over 20 growers.

Farm walk at Peninsula Organics by the Organic Vegie & Fruit growers Discussion Group.

As a result of this meeting, the Organic Vegie/Fruit Growers Discussion Group was set up to cater specifically for the needs of organic vegetable and fruit growers. The group of farmers decided to meet every two months on different organic farms. The group goes on a walk around the farm, and discuss topics including soil fertility, nutrient cycling, rotation design, composting, and on-going organic trials.

Twenty to 30 growers now regularly attend the group discussions and describe them as “stimulating, inspirational, and informative,” and are a great way to build relationships and network.

The National Landcare Programme has funded a couple of trials on participant’s farms. The trials have included comparing the effects of a range of green manure crops on soil fertility and nutrient cycling. This has been illuminating, particularly the monthly soil tests indicating the rise and fall of nitrogen levels in relation to seasonal conditions and the mix of green manures utilised. The use of lucerne as a green manure at this stage is a clear winner in terms of its nitrogen input to the system.

A second trial is looking at the benefit of the addition of compost and green manure as both a source of organic matter and stimulation to nutrient cycling. Again, the rise in nitrogen from the lucerne green manure crop has exceeded expectation and clearly demonstrates the benefit of this approach. The addition of compost, as expected, also provided increased nitrogen and improved soil physical conditions.

Historically, field days and workshops involving the organic industry create great interest, but have left attendees thirsting for more information and practical support. This group is unique in Australia, and possibly a leader in its mode of operation.

Coordinated by Pete and facilitated by Chris Alenson, the discussion group is a model worthy of take-up by the burgeoning organic industry where discussion group information is re-enforced and built-on by the field days and on-going organic research trials.

If you would like more information on this major project or the organic discussion group, contact Pete Ronalds at peter@wpcln.org.au or 0402 650 382, or Chris Alenson on 03 5968 3040.

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