Natural, organic, regenerative or conventional farming: Do labels help or hinder producers? – Michmutters

Natural, organic, regenerative or conventional farming: Do labels help or hinder producers?

Demand for food bearing labels such as ‘organic’ or ‘sustainable’ is soaring, but some farmers are questioning if the name is really worth the pain.

While some industry groups say labels help consumers make a choice, and getting the right credentials can offer a valuable point of difference for producers, others fear they present a barrier for those wanting to adopt some of the practices associated with them.

Consumers are driving the push, but when they are buying organic, natural, regenerative or conventionally farmed produce, do they really know what it means?

Staying out of the label box

Labels like “certified organic” require farmers to meet certain production standards, which can restrict the use of chemicals and govern the management of farms.

Graziers Peter and Nikki Thompson use mostly natural practices such as multi-species planting and decreased use of inputs on their 4,000-hectare property Echo Hills, 80 kilometers north-east of Roma in Queensland.

But they have not found a label that reflects their production style while still giving them flexibility.

“We’ve talked about the labeling of things and so often that forces you to box yourself into just organic or just conventional,” Mr Thompson says.

“We haven’t used any herbicide for three years but if we’ve got cattle coming in here that has come from tick [infested] country we will do the treatment up front.”

Man with red work shirt on, stands in a field with crimped cover cropping rows behind him.
Farmer Ian Beard chooses not to label his farm and operates with a “no rules” mindset.(Rural ABC: Lucy Cooper)

Being able to respond to problems with the most effective solution has led farmer Ian Beard to run his property at Wyreema in the Toowoomba region with what he calls “no rules”.

“By labeling your farm you put yourself into a box and really it is closing the toolbox,” he says.

“If I need them, I will use chemicals, plows, or choose to till. I need whatever tool that can make me sustainable and profitable.”

But are farmers like Mr Beard and the Thompsons missing out on a profit opportunity?

Labels can bring better price tags

Niki Ford, chief executive of Australian Organic Limited, the leading peak industry body representing producers, says without the farm and food labels the entire industry would not exist.


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