Organic legacy still thriving
HOLLY Dzundza was three when her parents organically certified their 7400ha cattle property, one of the first to do so in central Queensland.
Now, almost 30 years on, Holly and husband Daniel manage the property and say the Australian Certified Organic stamp has provided a premium niche for their Penjobe Pastoral beef.
"I can't take any credit for it. It was something that Mum and Dad decided, to look after the environment and human health,” she said.
"They met with opposition because they were doing something different, but to their credit they stuck with it.
"Now we get a premium for our beef and while the current price of conventional cattle is high, it's still worth being organic since there's a consistently growing demand for our product, and the organic market doesn't generally have the big highs and lows of conventional markets.
"The prices we get are more predictable, which means we can budget more easily.”
For the past five years the Dzundzas have managed the property, still owned by Holly's parents Philip and Gennett Mayne.
Since 2012, they have added a list of certifications, and are certified organic for the US, Korean, and Chinese markets, as well being certified with Global Animal Partnership, which monitors the animal welfare side of their operation.
Having been drought declared for those past five years, stocking rates are not at their peak, currently with 1300 head, comprising 400 breeding stock (100 of which are stud droughtmasters) and 900 commercial fattening cattle - all certified for organics and animal welfare, as well as grass-fed.
Cattle aged two to two-and-a-half years or 300kg dressed weight (600kg live weight) are sold through Arcadian Organic and Natural Meat Co in Toowoomba, with 70% exported.
THE fourth-generation farming family's property at Springsure is a mix of black soil, with sandy and rocky patches, typically receiving an average rainfall of 660mm but so far this year has received only 254mm.
"Usually we get rain in October to February but everything has been topsy-turvy lately with drier summers and wetter winters, but we've not even had the winter rain this year,” the 30-year-old said.
Since 2012, Penjobe Pastoral has been a stud, Royal Heart Droughtmasters.
Starting with two bulls bought in 2000 from Cungelella, the Dzundzas now buy in bulls from Glenlands Droughtmasters.
"We started the stud because we thought we've got something good here, and there was no one supplying organic bulls,” Holly said.
"We liked the breed - good strong calves, with a nice smooth coat for tick-resistance and good doers in the drought. They hold up well, whereas other breeds we've tried haven't been as resilient.”
Stud females are kept as replacement breeders, bulls are kept to join with other breeding mobs - or sold privately if there is surplus - and steers are fattened on property along with other commercial cattle.
"We only breed just enough for ourselves, so we haven't needed to advertise yet,” Holly said.
The remaining commercial herd is made up of mixed breeds including droughtmasters, brangus, brahman cross, angus cross, bazadaise and senegrey.
All breeders are joined in November, with management practices implemented to look after soil and animal health.
TICK OF HEALTH
DAN and Holly use rotational grazing to control the cattle tick population and manage grazing pressure.
Paddocks have been renovated with a variety of species including buffel grass, bambatsi and purple pigeon, and intersown with butterfly pea, snail medic and leucaena.
In addition, they sow fodder and grain crops, including dolichos lablab and sorghum in summer, with wheat and oats in winter, also producing their own hay. Once grazed, crops are ploughed in to increase organic matter.
The couple tries to avoid buying in supplementary feed, not just because of the expense, but organically certified feed takes time and effort to track down.
"You don't have a lot of choice and stocks run out really quickly, especially when so much of the state is dry. You have to get your order in early and wait for a while,” Holly said.
Stock is rotated every six weeks with paddocks rested up to 12 weeks, which helps pastures recover and cleans out ticks.
Cattle are also given a "lolly bar” of "free choice” mineral lick blocks, including sulphur for internal parasites, phosphorous (good for lactating cows), as well as trace minerals and proteins.
Penjobe Pastoral has a thriving population of dung beetles, which helps keep buffalo flies under control, while they also apply an organic fly oil treatment to back rubbers in the paddock to repel flies on cattle.
Holly said all their processes were in place to meet Korean and Chinese organic export certification. The only additional process required for China was to have annual soil, water and air quality testing.
She said there were some amusing, cross-cultural moments when auditors visited their property.
"The Korean auditors brought a translator, which made things easier, but when we first got audited for China he was here for a couple of days and while he read English, he didn't speak it fluently, so we had to draw a lot of stick figures and use charades,” she said with a laugh.
ACCESS ALL AREAS
PENJOBE Pastoral became certified for Aus-Meat's Global Animal Partnership after Arcadian suggested it would help them access US markets.
"Rather than just market our meat as organic, it was also about marketing it as animal welfare certified, which a lot of people are concerned about these days,” she said.
Again, Holly said they had already introduced animal welfare practices to the property.
Some of their practices include: branding and castrating at a young age, letting calves walk with their mothers while mustering, working quietly in the cattle yards, and using antibiotics where necessary to reduce suffering (with these animals quarantined and losing their organic status).
Holly said the amount of record keeping increased every year and was challenging to maintain, with multiple audits and a paper trail required for every outside input.
"You don't get a premium for doing nothing; it requires something of you,” said Holly, who has this year been nominated for an Australian Certified Organic Farmer of the Year award.