Farm Rules & Ethics : Green Gate Farm : NSW TAFE Riverina Institute : National Environment Center (NEC)

ethical farming Green Gate Farm : NSW TAFE Riverina Institute : National Environment Center (NEC)




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Green Gate Organic Farm acknowledge the Wiradjuri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of this Land on which we farm. We recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community and we pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

Our Farming Code

'Rules & Ethics'

As part of the decision making process in our farm management, we ask ourselves, "Does the suggested action abide by our farm rules?". If not, we rethink the rationale for our decision and attempt to fit in with the rules. Obviously, this is not always possible eg. we used steel strainer posts. These have much embodied energy in their mining, manufacturing, distribution and installation; that does not fit well. Timber strainer posts would fit better, with their recyclable attributes. However, living fences would be much better with their ecological outcomes to add to their paddock division properties.

The “rules” we use as our guide when making management decisions are a reflection of agro-ecology principles.

These rules have been developed over years of experience with the help of some extraordinary people. We would like to acknowledge the unknowing help of Bill Mollison, David Holmgen, David Suzuki, P.A. Yeomans, Miguel Altieri, Stephen Gleissman, Masanobu Fukuoka, Bob Hathway and Stuart Hill

Environmental Outcomes

  • Emphasize the environmental outcomes of management decisions rather than just production outcomes.

This is the first test we apply to our management decisions. The priority is environmental outcomes. An example of this: on this farm all the drainage lines and creeks are fenced out, even though they are the best grazing areas. The pay-off is in better water quality leaving the farm and flowing into the Murray River and for stock use, higher natural biodiversity for the farm and better quality links to natural areas outside farm boundaries.
 

Ecosystem Health

  • Focus on the overall health of the farm ecosystem rather than the outcome of a particular crop or season.

This is a challenge when you are faced with a single-issue problem. The temptation is to apply a single-issue solution to address the problem. Usually these single-isssue solutions have negative impact on other parts of the farm ecosystem. An obvious example is the treatment for a single invertebrate pest at the expense of other invertebrates. In our case at the NEC, for example, it means that we accept high levels of, say, red-legged earth mite damage in some paddocks in some years because to do anything about it would affect the whole system.

 

Ecosystem Processes

  • Use ecosystem processes rather than straight through nutrient movement as the method of nutrient management.

This is another obvious rule for organic farmers. In order to use ecosystem processes to provide nutrients we need to
provide nutrients through organic matter. This is challenging for broad area grazing systems where application of
composts etc. over large areas requires significant energy inputs. We try to use the pasture as kind of green manure crop, leaving a significant amount un-grazed by the agricultural animals. But you need the nutrients to grow the pasture. In our rather run-down problematic soils this is a significant issue. It is often difficult to source a local organic matter nutrient source.

 

Ecosystem energy

  • Use ecosystem energy rather than industrial or cultural energy and maximise renewable energy sources when using industrial energy. 

This is another way of saying, “keep the tractor in the shed”. Our farm systems are designed to try and maximise this rule. Some examples of this are: We use grazing as our main pasture management tool, we have oat crops that are used for up to 6 years without resowing. Alpacas provide predator control for our lambs and kids. It is really simple permaculture design. The other side of this is the industrial energy used to market our produce. We sell at the local farmers market in order to reduce the food miles associated with our production, nearly all food miles are a result of industrial energy.

 

Renewable inputs

  • Use renewable off farm inputs rather than non-renewable off farm inputs, in particular those that effect the operation of the ecosystem processes or impact on the general environment negatively.

This is another rather obvious rule that has close links to rules already discussed. Renewable farm inputs tend to be natural and with less embodied industrial energy. We use solar and wind power for pumping water when needed. But farm design based on rule 4 will tend to reduce off farm inputs as much as substituting one input for another.

 

Natural additions

  • Use natural additions to the system rather than adding synthetic or manufactured materials to the farm system.

This is another way of saying rule 4. and rule 3. Natural additions have less embodied industrial energy and can become part of the ecosystem nutrient cycles.

 

Manage pests

  • Manage pests and diseases rather than controlling them.

For us to control pests and diseases would usually require industrially produced inputs and industrial energy year to year. By recognising the role the pest or disease plays on the farm ecosystem, we try and manage it to a level where it is not a dominant part of the ecosystem. Paterson’s curse was a prolific plant on the farm when purchased over 20 years ago. Paterson's Curse has diminished on the farm through our grazing management. We try to manage the farm ecosystem to minimise the role Paterson’s curse plays in the system. 

 

Complex relationships

  • Develop and maintain complex ecological relationships across the farm landscape rather than simplifying them.

We see biological diversity at all levels as the background to our farms production. In order to get diversity we try to design and provide a complex of niche opportunities by maintaining landscape diversity. We have designed our farm with this in mind. 

 

Recognise limitations

  • Recognize the physical limitations of the farm landscape and manage farm production systems accordingly rather than trying to force the ecosystem processes to increase the saleable farm output.

Although grazing is the main income for the farm operation, nearly 1/2 of the farm is left as native landscape. We consider the ridge tops and drainage lines as being unsuitable for grazing production because of the fragile nature of the soil ecosystems on these soil types. We try to maintain the income levels by using marketing rather than production increases. Being in control of the whole marketing and production chain allows this to happen. Value adding by organic status and by doing our own retailing enables opportunities for a fairer income.

 

Appropriate biology

  • Select appropriate biology and genetics of the agricultural plants and animals rather than modifying the landscape to them.

In our area there are a number of significant sheep pests and diseases that can impact on our grazing enterprise. One of these is sheep blowfly. We have selected to use fat-tail sheep with no wool as our sheep breed; flies are now not a problem.

 

Succession for management

  • Use succession as management tool.

Many agricultural practices use industrial energy to create a disturbance that keeps the farm ecosystem right at the start of the succession curve. We try and minimise disturbance to allow the system to move further along the succession curve. This usually means small incremental changes rather than big instant fixes. One example on our farm is using timed grazing to manipulate plant communities in the pasture. This is not crash grazing, which is a disturbance, rather the grazing is timed to impact positively or negatively on components of the plant community.

 

Value Connection

  • Value your connection to the farm system and work towards making this connection stronger. 

This is one of the most important rules of all. The passion for the farms system gives us great strength. The study of ecology tells us that all things are connected and these connections are important.
We are connected to everything else in the farm ecosystem. This connectedness is considered a natural state. Eco-psychology proceeds from the assumption that at its deepest level the psyche remains sympathetically bonded to the earth. This is basic human nature; connectedness to the environment is a unique and powerfull.
We try and develop this connectedness by making sure that we are not so task focused. We don’t stop listening to the farm wildlife like the frogs. We try and muster the sheep on foot to allow for paddock and herd inspections rather than via the ute or on a bike. The strength of our farm comes from our connectedness.
 

Intergrate into society

  • Integrate your farm into your local society. Identify the farm’s links with your consumers and its role within the catchment and within the community.

The growing, preparing and eating food is a fundamental human activity. We strongly feel that our customers know the story of their food. From paddock to plate. The farmers' market enables the opportunity for the producer to represent their product. Farm open days create the opportunity for the community to see the foods origen and the philosophies imbedded in our farms ethics. The community is considered a stakeholder in the farms ecosystem. 
 

Animal Expression

  • Allow animals to express their natural instincts and behaviour within normal habitat in a family and social situation where they feel safe and unstressed.

This rule requires thought into the psyche of animals. Very few animals choose to live solitary lives. Most live in pairs or complex social or family groups where many skills are taught to younger animals. We consider the animals in our care and attempt to mimic their natural social structure and habits. This enhances the animals’ happiness, health and wellbeing, and so reduces stress and its associated management issues. Selection for production traits may cause behavioural changes, therefore we select breeding animals on a balance of attributes.

 

Establish a succession plan for the farm and the farm business. 

  • We are devoting years of our lives to building up an ecological system to produce and supply ethical food.

This rule is about ensuring the continuity of the business side of our work. Without a valid and informed business succession plan all our hard work can be lost after our demise. This rule also is about recognising our responsibility to communicate our vision and also to train all the members of our farm community, our co-workers and our replacements. This rule is not about just treating our farm as a business, but rather, it extends our rule about connectedness with the farm to being connected to our business. It allows free flowing vision, ideas and development through practical, on-farm applications into responsible, multi-generational options. It justifies the implementation of these ideas.