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Biological Open Days a Hit with Farmers

Association of Biological Farmers (NZ) Inc
14th November 2011

Biological Open Days a Hit with Farmers

Biological Farming is rapidly growing in popularity as farmers and growers see the evidence of this commonsense approach for themselves. Management practices which build soil and support economic and ecological outcomes can be simple to apply; these techniques also provide immediate solutions to the increasing concerns from consumers and legislators. The Association of Biological Farmers (ABF) is holding a series of open days around the country with the aim of sharing good independent practical farming advice.

This month the first ABF open day was held at Incline Dairies, a 230 hectare property at Patoka. With nearly 6 years of low-input management under his belt, Neil Armitage is showing that dairy does need to be ‘dirty’ to provide productive and profitable results.

The long drive up to Neil Armitage’s Incline Dairies was “well worth the trip” said one South Island farmer, with 85 farmers and growers coming afar a field as Marlborough, Martinborough, Gore, Gisborne, Rotorua and Auckland. The group included dairy, sheep and beef farmers, orchardists, viticulturalists, consultants, scientists and educators.

The open day had a strong practical focus with farmers and educators demonstrating diverse pastures, weed and grazing management and assessing soil health. A 1.6m deep trench was excavated giving everyone a chance to get down right into the soil to see different points of interest including; large chicory roots, large burrowing worms beyond a metre down and a deep dark topsoil. Neil’s soils and pastures were described as “inspirational” by one beef farmer.

Neil has shifted from an intensive high-input, high production system to one that has lower costs and minimal inputs, but still maintains high production. The last capital fertiliser inputs were applied 13 years ago. He first started on a full biological program over 5 years ago. His goals are to grow healthy pasture and achieve above average production, while farming both sustainably and profitably, he feels that he is now achieving those goals. Rotorua scientist Dr Guna Mageson commented that Neil Armitage is also a great role model for the Maori farming community.

Neil is maintaining/increasing excellent production off a system that is now 90% grass-fed; one of Neil’s long term goals. The kale has been pulled out and now “our actual crops are clover and diversity in the grasses." Neil was asked about his earthworms; 5 years ago he had around 7 worms/spade and now there are over 100 in some areas. Many of the worms are the large deep burrowers; laying castings in their burrows, aerating the soil and bringing up minerals from lower in the soil profile.

The feedback from the day was hugely positive with half of the farmers reporting that they would change some of their management practices due to information received during the day.

ABF is a national organization promoting regenerative farming practices which improve and enhance NZ's productive landscapes. ABF are running a series of open days around the country over the next 8 months with another 3 planned for the North Island and 2 in the South. Information is available online or contact

The project has been made possible with the support from the Sustainable Farming Fund, ABF membership and 12 other organisations passionate about building a vibrant and healthy society, environment and economy.


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