AFTER moving away from conventional beef production four years ago, Fred and Anna Appleton, Islay Plains, Alpha, are this year selling their first organic progeny.
The Appleton’s are a multigenerational family operation, who run their organic breeding and fattening business over seven properties covering 194,653ha in the Alpha and Belyando Crossing districts.
The herd is a “Licorice Allorts”, according to Mr Appleton, made up of Brahman, Charolais, Santa Gertrudis, Angus, and Droughtmaster genetics.
Mr Appleton said it was exciting to finally make their first organic sales, with majority of this years’ steers and heifers going to Arcadian Organic and Natural Meat Co.
They are selling their steers at about 300kg-320kg, and the heifers are anywhere up to between 250kg and 270kg.
Mr Appleton said it came down to good genetics to produce a good organic beast.
“It's a very simple operation that we run here,” he said.
“You need to buy good bulls, get good cattle, and then have the quality of the land and let it do its job, and hopefully it comes out the other end with a good article.”
They are doing three or four lifts each month and selling regularly.
Ms Appleton said the increase of cashflow gained by targeting a premium market opened up a whole range of possibilities for the business – including buying better bulls and genetics to get weight gain on the cattle after the switch saw them take out HGPs from the operation.
“We're obviously losing that weight gain from HGP’s, but we can put that money back into the better genetics,” she said.
When buying bulls, Mr Appleton said he looks for the same thing everyone else does.
“I don't get too carried away on the data first, as long as they've got a big set of rocks and the semen is good,” he said.
“Then to me it's got to be long, with width and depth, and then if the poll and everything else lines up after that, well that's all a bonus.”
He said while polled cattle were ideal, it wasn’t a dealbreaker with him – because “and the end of the day, you’re not getting paid on that, and it is important not to lose the quality of the bull, over the poll”.
The switch to organics was easy for the family, and they said that they were operating primarily organically already, and the only real change was having to remove the use of HGPs.
“So as far as our practices go - we haven't really had to change anything.”
“It is a nice reward, to receive a premium for what you're already doing, and that's what the marketplace wants, so the biggest change was formalising and streamlining the paper trail,” Mr Appleton added.
The Appleton's operate alongside their four daughters Alex, 12, Georgia, 10, Harriet, eight, and Tempe, seven.
MR Appleton was a 2015 Nuffield Scholar, and said getting to the end of his research was a big relief.
He expanded his area of study to include organic practices, from an original view to focus on dehorning and castration.
He said while he went in intending to research animal husbandry practices, it soon became clear that the real opportunities in Australia were within the marketing of our product.
He said on the global focus program, more and more people were asking him about his home operations, and the natural beef production here in northern Australia.
“You start thinking is there more value in the story as opposed to the meat you're trying to sell?” he said.
“Then you start thinking we have that story, combined with the MSA gradings, and there's nowhere else that has that.
“We have a backing behind our meat quality, then we have the outback and the story to go with it.”
He said there was still plenty of people who needed persuading though.
“Especially with organics, and admittedly it’s not suited for everywhere, but there is definitely a resistance to change within the industry and to break away from the conventional, and traditional methods, and it is something we’ve faced within our own family operation,” he laughed.
“But all the way around (the trip) it seemed to me like the organics and just the story of what we do out here is what they wanted.”
As for the common themes on the tour – Mr Appleton said there were plenty which translated across ever industry.
“It doesn't matter if its oranges or lettuce - the issues all seem to be the same; staff, labour, costs, and the big one is rain,” he said.
“That seems to be the most common one.”
For Nuffield as a whole, Mr Appleton said he was pleased to be finish.
“It’s good that it's done, and was an opportunity of a lifetime,” he said.
Read more on Mr Appleton’s Nuffield work here.