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Farmer Mark Flipp on the benefits of organic farming

Mark Flipp in the milkshed of his Oroua Downs dairy farm, where four generations of his family now live.

On the Flipp family farm, the old ways are the best.

In that understated way typical of laconic Kiwi farmers, Mark Flipp reckons “not a lot changed” on his family’s farm when it became officially certified organic in 2010. That’s because the Flipp philosophy since 1980, when his parents Bill and Anne bought the Oroua Downs property, 30km from Palmerston North, has always been to “farm inside the boundary”.

Pressed as to what that entails, he mentions practices such as maintaining relatively smaller herds, rotating crops, composting, eschewing supplementary feeds and chemical weedkillers, and not using milk from cows that have been treated with antibiotics. “We’re just farming how people farmed in the 70s,” he says.

It takes three years to become organically certified with the government-owned regulation body AsureQuality, but Flipp says the biggest difference was “creating a paper trail for the authenticity of what we do”.

He’s quietly chuffed that his dairy farm has less impact on the environment than a conventional one. Over the years, the family’s holding has expanded from its original 111 hectares to almost five times that size. Today, four generations of Flipps live on the property, with Bill and Anne still involved in the day-to-day running of the business. Flipp’s sister, Deborah, handles the admin and his brother, Darryl, runs a support block for the heifers in Feilding.

Around 600 friesians are milked on the farm, with half calving in spring and half in autumn. Flipp believes that year-round milk supply – and its proximity to Palmerston North – is why Fonterra’s Kapiti brand chose his farm as the sole supplier for its new “Single Source” organic milk.

While there’s a growing awareness among consumers around issues of provenance, organic milk is still a mere drop in the bucket. About 17,000 of the nation’s 6.5 million cows are “organic”: a fall from 2010, when there were 29,000. However, organic milk solids are a premium product, with Fonterra paying around 50 per cent more per kilo than for regular milk.

Funnily enough, Flipp isn’t partial himself to drinking white gold. Instead, his job satisfaction comes from seeing his herd happy and well fed. “You need patience to farm organically – to get through the hoops,” he says. “Patience.”

This was published in the November 2017 issue of North & South.