Tasmanian organic milk and cheese: Smooth path to success
KAROLIN MACGREGOR Tas Country December 1, 2017 12:00am
TASMANIAN organic milk and cheese will soon be available across the state, thanks to a new range from Ashgrove.
The company has joined forces with two dedicated organic milk producers to introduce a range that will include non-homogenised milk and cheese.
The cheese is currently maturing phase,but the milk will be sold from today in independent supermarkets and specialist retailers across the state.
Paul Bennett from Ashgrove said in recent years a number of farmers around the state had converted to organic production.
“We saw the opportunity, there were a lot of farmers who have converted or are converting into organics and no one is processing the products,” he said.
“It fits well with the Ashgrove brand to have an organic premium milk in the market place.
“We thought the farmers who have gone to that effort deserve a premium on their milk,” Mr Bennett said.
“I guess we came to that position because there are a lot of companies that have talked about it but no one has actually done it, so we thought we’d give those guys an option.”
The Ashgrove factory achieved organic certification with the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia in August. The farmers have been supplying milk to Ashgrove for a few months and the company collects about 5000 litres a day from them.
“Hopefully that will grow as the markets grow,” Mr Bennett said.
The company is currently supplying some organic on conversion cheese products to Aldi but the fully organic Cheddar and a blue cheese will be available in Tasmania next year.
Prices paid for the milk have been negotiated directly with the farmers.
“Talking to the organic farmers we’re led to believe it costs about 30 per cent more to produce milk organically, and they also don’t get as much production as conventional farmers do,” Mr Bennett said.
As production increases Mr Bennett may look at supplying more into mainland markets or even overseas if the demand is there. This may also mean taking on more organic suppliers.
Mr Bennett is hopeful demand will grow and they can take more on.
“We have had more talks with other people who are looking to convert.”
Ashgrove suppliers include Geoff and Coleen Atkinson at Cuprona, whose operation is certified organic.
Mr Atkinson said they were thrilled with the opportunity.
“The whole thing has been excellent,” he said praising, good communication with the processor.
“To have the opportunity to supply a company like Ashgrove which is making premium Tasmanian products is fantastic, it’s what we’ve been hoping for.”
The Atkinsons milk year round and currently have 80 cows in milk. To maintain production 12 months of the year they have three calving periods in March, July and November.
Mr Atkinson became interested in heading down the organic path several years ago and said making the transition was not as difficult as many farmers imagine.
“Basically, you just have to change the way you think about things a bit.
“There are a lot of products out now that we can use, even for things like weed control, which people think is a big issue.”
An important part of the system is making sure adequate cow nutrition, including mineral and vitamin needs, is provided. Minimising stress is also key.
“If the cows aren’t under stress and they’re getting everything they need you just don’t have that many problems to start with,” Mr Atkinson said.
Rather than just using ryegrass, Mr Atkinson said they promoted what he describes as a salad mix in their pastures. This includes sowing plants such as comfrey, chicory, plantain, lucerne, red and white clover in the mix.
As well as providing a good variety for the cows, these pastures also help improve soil health and promote good microbial activity.
Mr Atkinson said they also used a range of approved organic products which include live bacteria to help fuel pasture production and ensure essential minerals are available to the plants.
While there are limits on some animal-health treatments in organic systems, Mr Atkinson said he would not compromise on this area.
“I will not see an animal suffer.”
Mr Atkinson said he found benefit in seaweed supplements to manipulate the number of heifer calves they breed.
He said supplementing cows with seaweed for three weeks up to joining had resulted in a 85 per cent heifer calf rate across the herd.
Hay and silage for the operation is cut off the property and Mr Atkinson said interstate suppliers sold organic grain. However, he hopes local growers will be keen to supply organic cereals.
With demand for products increasing Mr Atkinson sees a big future for organic dairy in Tasmania.
“We’re pretty proud of what we’ve been able to achieve and I’ve had a fair few knockers over the years.
“I’m fairly pig-headed though and I think it just goes to show what you can do if you stick at it.”