The decision to produce organic vegetables was an easy one for Tony and Jennie Croft. The difficulty came from trying to grow high quality organic vegetables in wind-blasted sandy soils during a drought.
Eight years ago, the couple bought a rundown 24ha farm at Nyah West, northwest of Swan Hill, with the idea of growing lavender, but decided the flower crop was too much of a risk. Instead, they began converting it from organic dried fruit production to vegetables. The Crofts started with 0.4ha, then grew 0.8ha, pulling each crop by hand until they could grow enough to justify using a mechanical harvester.
Early crops were disappointing and about 70 per cent were sold as lower-priced rejects, suitable only for juicing. “The shape was OK,” Tony said “but they didn’t taste nice and they didn’t look good. “So I tackled it from the quality point of view, rather than production, and said we’re not going to grow carrots until we can grow quality carrots.”
Tony and Jennie embarked on a search for answers, and began experimenting to find the best ways to improve their soil structure, microbial biomass and mineral uptake by plants. “We only really disturb the soil once and try to get crop residue back into the soil as quickly as we can,” Tony said. “Normally, we can pull a patch of carrots and be in with lettuce in two weeks.”
The quick turnaround between continuous crops means the Crofts have been able to increase production on the main block of 13.5ha. “In seven years we’ve increased production 10-fold and we’ve only doubled the amount of water we’ve used,” Tony said. “We’re now one of the biggest carrot growers in the area.” Four varieties of carrots are grown, as well as lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, parsnip and beetroot. The Crofts employ four permanent workers, including their eldest son Sean, 27, and 10 casuals.
Weekly Times article, July 1, 2009 – by Sandra Godwin.
Edited by Environment Victoria.