Barambah Organics is Australia’s leading organic dairy, and its three farms are committed to sustainability and actively improving the environment
“The way we farm at Barambah Organics isn’t just about not leaving a footprint,” says Tony Burnett, the General Manager of farming, “it’s about actually improving the land by enriching the soil, increasing biodiversity and looking after the waterways and native pastured lands around us.”
The company owns three farms with a total of around 1100 cows in the south of Queensland and far north of NSW. It also owns organic yoghurt brand five:am and East Coast Sustainable Dairy.
On organic dairy farms the cows are free to wander across wide, open paddocks, munching on rich, tasty grass all day instead of being fed grain and silage in crowded sheds. No chemical fertilisers or pesticides are used, and no growth hormones or antibiotics are injected into the cattle.
“Organics and sustainability go hand in hand,” Tony says. “At Barambah, we call it ‘regenerative farming’ because we’re not just passionate about having the smallest possible impact on the environment, we’re actually making it better by putting back more than we take out.”
When you compare the practice to some conventional farming, on organic farms we:
* A Dairy Farm’s Footprint: Evaluating the impacts of Conventional and Organic Farming Systems by Dr. Charles Benbrook, The Organic Center 2010
Enriching the soil
The layer of soil that contains the nutrients necessary for pastures is surprisingly thin, often less than 15cm.
And, on farms that plough the soil to grow animal feeds or crops, it can get a little thinner every year as heavy rain can wash dirt into river systems. Conventional farming has also drastically reduced the carbon that fuels healthy plant growth. In much of South Australia, the amount of carbon safely trapped in soil has fallen by 75 per cent since 1840, almost entirely due to intensive agricultural methods.◊
“The soil on our farms is naturally packed with nutrients as it gets regularly fertilised by the cows themselves!” Tony says. “By carefully rotating the animals through different paddocks, and using multiple pasture species the topsoil is regenerated. Once they’ve grazed on a particular area, it can be left to regrow for up to 50 days by which time there will be plenty of nutritious leaves to eat.”
Nothing gets wasted. Even the manure collected from the milking sheds is collected and composted with straw and bark before being spread back onto the pastures and crops.
◊ Regenerative Australian Farmers – Promoting Healthy Soils found at: https://regenfarmers.com.au/
Saving precious water
As the soil at the Barambah Organics farms is so rich in organic matter, it retains more moisture so much less watering is required. That’s why regenerative farms cope with droughts so much better than others.
Then there’s all the water that’s needed to grow all the grain that cows on conventional farms eat. “On intensive dairy farms, grain can make up half of what they’re fed,” Tony reveals. “Planting, growing and transporting it requires a lot of water and energy. The grass our cows eat grows naturally and, when it rains, our paddocks absorbs alot of water.
“There’s also less run off into rivers. On non-organic farms, local waterways can be polluted by chemicals and pesticides.”
Sinking the carbon
We all know how important it is to reduce carbon emissions, and switching to buying organic food is one of the most effective ways to do so.
Around a third of the atmospheric carbon caused by humans has come from Conventional farm practices are one of the biggest contributors to human-caused carbon emissions *. Every time a field is ploughed or tilled, carbon is released, gradually degrading the soil so farmers have to spray on tons of artificial fertiliser and vast amounts of water to restore it.
“The levels of carbon in our soil is very high,” Tony says proudly. “In fact, one of our farms is a carbon sink, which means we trap more carbon than we emit. The other two are well on their way to achieving the same.”
* Major international study by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research 2012
Letting nature thrive
Regenerative farms set aside areas of land for plants and trees to grow unchecked, creating vital ecosystems for native species. Sadly, on some conventional farms, vital habitats are destroyed as trees and native pastures have to be cleared to make room for ever more crops like soy, oats and almond plantations.
All three of Barambah Organics’ farms are teaming with wildlife. Bellinger Farm includes 200 acres of dense rainforest full of king parrots, rainbow lorikeets and koalas. Booba Sands Farm, meanwhile, boasts native wattle, blue gums and cyprus trees that provide the cows with welcome shade.
Glenarbon Farm straddles the beautiful Dumaresq River, with kangaroos and emus often sharing the undulating kikuyu and rye grass fields with the cattle. The farm’s lagoon is a popular watering hole for all the native animals.
No wonder studies have found that organic cows are happier, and that happier cows produce better tasting milk!
And the grassy pastures on the Barambah Organics Farms contain more than just grass! “There are nutritious legumes like clovers, lucerne and vetches,” Tony says. “Even some weeds like young bur clover are great for a cow’s diet. And the greater the range of plants, the more insects, birds and lizards you attract so there’s real biodiversity.”
The mix of grasses means there’s no need to apply them with urea, a chemical fertiliser containing nitrogen that gets washed into rivers causing toxic algal blooms that devastate fish populations.
So, there’s an awful lot involved in making a farm truly regenerative, but, for Tony, it’s worth all the hard work. “We’re looking after the land, creating sustainable sanctuaries for wildlife and protecting the environment,” he reflects. “This is how farming is meant to be.”
Find out more about Barambah Organics’ range of dairy products here
Image credit: Gabriel Jimenez