After the release of OBE Organic’s Sustainability Report 2022 earlier this year, Australian Rural & Regional News found out a little more about what’s involved in farming organic beef in the vast Channel Country and how it came to be Australia’s oldest organic beef company from OBE Organic’s Managing Director, Dalene Wray.
ARR.News: The grazing area shown on your website is a very large area – what process of investigation was undertaken in order to have it certified as organic?
Dalene Wray: The three year process, inspect, inspect and inspect again, that’s how it works. Your farm is effectively in a three year probation period, so at the beginning of year one, NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia) inspectors will give your farm a once over to ensure you have fully adapted to organic processes. This is called the pre-certification period and nothing you sell can be labelled organic. In year two a second inspection will determine whether you’ve sufficiently met all organic standards. If the answer is yes, you will become the lucky recipient of ‘in conversion’ status. You can now sell produce labelled ‘organic, in conversion.’ Finally, if a year three inspection gets the thumbs up, you will be officially recognised as a certified organic farmer’.
ARR.News: The grazing area appears to include aboriginal lands, is that correct?
Dalene Wray: The map represents the Lake Eyre Basin, our production region. This map is useful for identifying traditional ownership. This map attempts to represent the language, social or nation groups of Aboriginal Australia. It shows only the general locations of larger groupings of people which may include clans, dialects or individual languages in a group.
ARR.News: Do you have arrangements with local aboriginals in regard to access to land for the purposes of grazing stock?
Dalene Wray: OBE Organic sources livestock from certified organic producers who have obligations under local, state and federal laws. Some of these obligations may prescribe their relationships with traditional owners. These relationships may extend to an Indigenous Land Use Agreement which may include arrangements regarding livestock.
ARR.News: Mention is made of your Reconciliation Action Plan – what does that involve?
Dalene Wray: A Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) is a formal statement of commitment to reconciliation.
ARR.News: When the Channel Country floods, do the flood waters impact organic certification?
Dalene Wray: No.
ARR.News: How do you manage your beef herds when the Channel Country floods, e.g. 2008, 2019?
Dalene Wray: When the Channel Country floods, livestock make their way to higher ground. Sometimes it is more difficult to muster livestock and truck them to market due to limited road access when the flooded rivers cut major arterial roads out of the Channel Country region.
ARR.News: Do tourists and other visitors, e.g. Australian Desert Expeditions (ADE) and other camel trekkers, impact upon your activities?
Dalene Wray: Tourism and livestock production have been functioning in harmony for decades. Typically, signage indicates to tourists that they are entering an organic property and asks people to be respectful. We would expect the same respect by tourists on non-organic properties.
ARR.News: One benefit you have is your almost unique location where the usual pasture improvement practices would be virtually impossible and going non-organic would appear to be more difficult than going organic, so, in many ways, you appear to be making a virtue out of necessity by obtaining organic certification – how practical do you think this approach would this be in other areas of Australia where the pastures are more productive, the land is more expensive and greater return per acre is being sought?
Dalene Wray: Why Organic? The way we farm and eat can make a world of difference. Organic is an ‘agroecological’ farming system that offers many benefits.
See further: 10 good reasons to go organic
ARR.News: Cattle are quite heavy beasts which can readily damage the landscape in which they are grazing – what strategies do you have to minimise the damage which cattle can cause?
Dalene Wray: OBE Organic sources livestock from properties where animals are free to roam and graze and choose their own diet of over 250 species of native herbs and grasses. Most animals each have over 1 km2 to graze, which serves to minimise any perceived damage to the environment.
ARR.News: Do you have areas from which the cattle are banned from grazing?
Dalene Wray: Producers may choose to fence certain areas of their property to prevent livestock incursion, for example around certain waterpoints.
ARR.News: What breed or breeds of cattle do you prefer?
Dalene Wray: Most OBE Organic livestock are sourced from producers who prefer British breeds such as Hereford, Angus or a cross.
ARR.News: How do OBE respond to feral animals on the property?
Dalene Wray: Wild dog predation can be an issue for livestock producers, regardless of their certification status. Here is a good summary about how wild dogs are managed on organic properties.
ARR.News: Was it difficult to obtain the FAB accreditation with the UN? What was required?
Dalene Wray: UN Global Compact participants in the food and agriculture sector, like OBE Organic are invited to take an additional, voluntary step to embrace a set of Food and Agriculture Business Principles and report annually on their progress.
ARR.News: Why do you think that OBE has been the only Australian beef producer to obtain the FAB accreditation?
Dalene Wray: Australian agribusinesses are beginning to align their sustainability initiatives with global goals such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
ARR.News: Do you know of other beef producers in Australia planning to replicate your model?
Dalene Wray: The Australian Beef Industry is working collaboratively on sustainability initiatives. The latest  Australian Beef Sustainability Update can be viewed here. OBE Organic features as a case study in this update.
ARR.News: Is there interest from overseas in your model?
Dalene Wray: OBE Organic is but one of thousands of agribusinesses around the world who work on cooperative principles with similar missions to help people lead better healthier lives.
ARR.News: Is it all worth it in terms of the price obtained for your beef?
Dalene Wray: Our production region and supply chain is very unique. There is nowhere like it in the world and we are proud to source product from the pure heart of Australia and share it with the world.