Regenerative Agriculture & Having Faith in What We Do

Why we believe Regenerative Farming is the key to the future of farming

Current climate – where we’re at 

A few weeks ago, we wrote an open letter to our supporters and friends detailing our struggles with the current drought that is affecting Australia. We detailed our struggles and what the ongoing increases to the cost of feed are doing to our farm and how we’re challenged to deal with it.  

To be honest, our confidence and faith was a little shaken at this time – but again, it’s 90% of how we react to it – our attitude is everything! 

It was during this time that we took some time to reflect what we’ve built, what we’ve achieved and do you know what? Jason and I are bloody proud of ourselves. We incorporated systems and management styles since we started our business eight years ago (albeit, refining over time) that have put us in a good position. 

Jason Hagan Soil Education

Depictions of the drought in the media 
We’re in support of raising awareness about the plight of farmers experiencing hardship around the country in response to the drought. Helping consumers understand that the drought is real, what that looks like on the land and what it means for them in terms of communities and small business – the ripple effect! 

People need to know that current drought conditions are serious and is having irreparable damage on some farms and communities. However, Jason and I are challenged and upset by the single view linking all Australian agriculture with the negative impressions. We feel this negative association that it’s all doom and gloom is giving our communities a sense of hopelessness and implying that many of the farmers involved are not good business people.  

 

On reflection 
Fact: Farming relies on weather, which is in God’s hands and certainly out of anyone’s control. Weather is always an area of concern for primary producers, and we know that droughts happen! Therefore, it should seem like a risk and be built into our business plans & practices.  How we farm our land is something we do control and so you can make choices to make the business resilient.

 

So what are we doing differently and how do we become ‘drought resilient’?
To be honest?  

You can never be drought-proof – it’s a risk to every farming business. Sometimes we know that one is creeping up on us and most of the time we don’t know for how long it will last!  So the ability to manage through a drought comes from knowledge, and building a strong foundation – in our case the foundation of a farm is the SOIL! 

Soil health is the single biggest factor that keeps us afloat during drought periods.  The Soil drives our farming practices and creates a healthy eco-system to be resilient against droughts or extended dry periods.  

Think about soil health like your own health. Generally, when you are healthy and strong you can ride the challenge of sickness, colds, and likely you don’t need to spend days in bed. But if you are stressed – your immune system is already challenged and then cold that comes along – knocks you for six; in bed for days, long recovery and the hang-over of the cold lasting weeks or even months.  

The soil we farm is the same, when it’s healthy it has a stronger tolerance to challenges.  It is able to assist and keep healthy the plants, the water cycle and the animals in it’s ecosystem – they all rely on the soil.  Soil health is the single biggest factor in making our farm RESILIENT & STRONG! 

 

How do you get good soil, we hear you ask? 
We practice a newer style of farming called ‘Regenerative Agriculture’. In essence, we regenerate the soil to increase biodiversity and improve water cycles, enhance ecosystems, increase resilience to climate fluctuation and strengthen the health and vitality of land itself.  

The real key to building soil is providing it with good food – which comes from healthy plants – their roots make food for the soil microbes.  The animals also lay manure on the soil – which is fertiliser (more food for the microbes).  But ultimately the defining factor is RESTING the land.  Allowing time for recovery between animal movements – if you think about natural herding animals in the wild – they don’t stay the whole year in a paddock – they move seasonally to where is the best food.  Regenerative Agriculture is creating a system to mimic natural animal behaviours which results in a holistic approach and is full of symbiotic relationships – good for the soil, good for the plant, good for the animal, good for the environment!

If it sounds complex, that’s because it is…..

One way also to explain SOIL is to compare it to your garden or veggie patch at home.  People who put effort into building a strong ecosystem in their soil by using manure, compost, blood & bone, seasol etc. help to provide nutrients and food to the soil microbes. This results in an ability to grow better plants that are stronger to resist insects and diseases, and importantly, produce the best tasting food! 

Generations of poor land management on an agricultural scale have depleted much of Australia’s rich soils where, over time, the soil microbes have not been the focus of the farm’s practices. Poorly managed land leads to soil microbe death. No soil microbes = no things growing.  

“From Little things, BIG things grow!!” 

McIvor Farm Foods Soil

 

Where are we heading? 
We continuously check our business in against a few core goals of what Jason and I are trying to achieve with our business here at McIvor Farm. One of which is understanding the mutual and interrelated relationship we have with our customer base.  

In our experience, our consumers want good food and choice.  

There is a sense that big industrial agricultural corporations operate behind closed doors. They typically don’t take the opportunity, to be honest, and open with their consumers who are interested in what is going on with our food. We want to know things like how it’s made, what lives have the animals had, what do they eat.  

We, like many of the customers drawn to the McIvor Farm brand, are empowered by knowledge. Knowing the provenance and journey of producing food drives our choices as consumers.  

We’ve built McIvor Farm on the principals of honesty, transparency, respect for all-beings (from the microbes in the soil to the animals to the people that care for and eat them). We consider that to be one of our points of difference in the market. We’re not the only producers who make great tasting pork, but we are one of the few that are honest and transparent about our practices. We’re doing what we can to be as open and transparent as possible, taking it a step further to open our farm for Tour Days, show you can see it with our own eyes.  

 

Into the future
Recently, Darren Doherty of Regrarians visited our farm, as he does many times of the year – Darren is a consultant, mentor and friend to us both.  Darren also designed our farm, from the physical layout to the best place the ways to capture the most amount of water.  

On this particular visit, Darren was showcasing our farm to his friend Rob who has farmed in NSW most of his life. 

As Darren showed Rob up the paddock around it sounded like Rob got a little excited.  

“THIS is it mate! THIS is it….  It’s soil being formed right there – look at it mate – it’s as good as it gets and they’re growing bloody pigs for goodness sakes!” 

A comment like Rob’s is one of the micro-moments that has a macro impact on our business and faith! It sums up why Jason and I have hope in our future here at McIvor Farm and true belief we are making a difference.   

We can see the change in our paddocks and we receive feedback from you, our customers, who eagerly tell us how much you enjoy our pork. This shapes us and gives us the drive to keep going. So thank you, your support means the world to us.  

We’re here for the long haul!  

 

Belinda Hagan McIvor Farm Foods Regenerative agriculture

Belinda Hagan McIvor Farm Foods_Talking about Soil

Hard times and ‘the REAL cost of Food’

Jason and I are very positive people and truly believe that your ‘attitude is everything’.  We have a copy of a faxed document (yes it’s that old) that had such an impact on us that it has moved with us since we met back in 2003.  The mantra of the message still rings true today.

It reads  ‘Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it’.

Today, here in October 2018 this phase certainly rings true.  On our farm, like many of our peers, we’re experiencing hard times.  We need to keep positive, but it can be difficult.

We can already hear some people asking – ‘What hard times? Your property isn’t in drought.  Your farm looks green, and you’re always talking about how busy your business is at the moment’.

It’s true, at the moment much of our ground cover is green and due to more recent recognition, on top of the ground swell of continued support form our local and loyal tribe we are very busy trying to keep up with demand.  But, it is what’s been happening over the past few weeks and what lies ahead for our business is emotional, difficult and full of pressure!

The terrible and highly published weather conditions in parts of Australia are beginning to ripple out to farms and businesses outside the ‘drought zoned’ areas.

The drought has HIT us and you too!

Let me explain. Many farms, including ours, rely on grain to supplement the feed of our animals. We purchase this from a local stockfeed manufacturer which sources local and interstate grain and protein depending on quality and price.

This year, NSW and QLD have been harvesting comparatively little-too-no grain due to the drought conditions of lack of water, blazing sun and increasingly poor soil nourishment – there’s just little-too-none available. In addition, VIC and WA have been hit by frost in the last fortnight. Both conditions lead to fewer and fewer tonnes of grain. Farms still need to continue to bring in feed for their animals (no feed = no animals). Therefore, simple economics teaches us when the demand is the same but the supply is halved, the price will double.

What does this mean for McIvor Farm and YOU?

We believe in open and honest communication, and we’ll break it down for you so you don’t think we’re taking a bigger cut on the pork we produce. In recent weeks have seen the price of our supplement feed increase by 30% that’s $185 per tonne. For a family business our size that’s nearly $10,000 more per month.

Could we change our supplement or feed ‘waste products’ –  not really!

We’ve proudly built the reputation of our business on the quality of our pork and the way we care for the animals and the land we steward. We can’t just turn our backs on our principles, even in hard times. We’re standing by our need to maintain the quality of our pork for us as committed producers, but also from our customers.

We still have green grass across the paddocks at the moment, although without having rain for weeks and already experiences warmer days, frost and wind, we can see the grass wilting before our eyes (as sometimes the eyes are welling up!).

Ultimately, we need to care for our pigs and continue to provide them with food, water, and shelter.

So, believe me, we’re running budget and cash flow forecasts (tightening our already proudly tight ship) to assess all the costs involved in our business to ride out this storm. We’ve recognised that absorbing this type of cost increase is not sustainable and will ultimately put us out of business. Above everything, we don’t want that, we want to be here for years to come, maybe with Hannah and Eric at the helm.

We hope that you, our customers, also want the same. Therefore, we ask for your continued support as we increase the cost of some of our products.

We all pray for rain for here and across the country, and it is with the greatest respects that we acknowledge our industry peers who are doing it far tougher.

So please, from one family to another, we ask for your support in continuing to purchase from farmers like us to help us ride out this storm, so we can meet you on the other side, stronger and more resilient. Attitude is 90% of battle, and with your support we’re in it for the fight!

 

Your food producers & land custodians,

Belinda & Jason Hagan

 

 

Where to buy McIvor Farm products – to continue supporting us…..

Direct from our many Farmers Markets or the Farm Gate Shop

Or from our great retailers, which many of them have been a big part of our journey.

Check out the list