Organic pork production

There is a price premium for organic pork, however, consider higher costs for establishment and production before undertaking the venture.

The basics

The basic husbandry requirements for producing organic pork are:

  • free-range management to ensure the pigs have access to soil and 'green pick' and they are able to conduct natural social and physical behaviour
  • access to clean, dry housing at all times to ensure their physical and social needs are met
  • feed and edible animal bedding must be from an organically certified source
  • compliance with environmental and welfare principles.

Why choose organics?

There has been an increase in demand for organic produce both domestically and overseas. Price premiums for organic pork can be up to 50% higher than those received for conventional pork. However, organic pork production is a long-term market commitment and should not be entered into only for short-term price premiums. Organic production is not the solution for low prices or financial difficulties; there are costs associated with obtaining organic accreditation, which normally takes about three years, and producing organic pork has been calculated to cost twice that of conventional pork.

Organic farming

Organic farming is production without using synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms or products. Animal welfare, being central to organic farming, stipulates that living conditions must consider the natural needs of the animals for free movement, social behaviour, food, water, shade and sunlight.

Australia has a National Standard for Organic Production that is administered by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). There are several approved certifiers under the AQIS system, but currently only four certify livestock. The two main certifiers of organic piggeries in Queensland are the Biological Farmers of Australia [Toowoomba] and the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture [South Australia].

Site selection

Each application for organic certification is assessed on its potential to cause environmental harm. Thus applicants will be required to demonstrate compliance with at least the following:

  • odour from the operation will not impact neighbouring properties or communities
  • nil impact on groundwater
  • management practices for sustainable free-range pen systems, to prevent the nutrient accumulation and /or leaching through soils
  • stormwater/overland flow management to minimise nutrient losses through soil erosion and /or contaminants from run-off waters from the free-range pen system.

A general rule for the area needed is 12 to 20 dry sows per ha, with maximums given in the Model Code of Practice for pig welfare. This will vary depending on soil type, ground cover, slope and rainfall, as each area must be spelled before the soil is exposed or when excess rain occurs. This area should not be used again for pigs until good ground cover returns.

Applicants should contact their relevant local government authority to establish any requirements relating to development approval.

Housing

All pigs must have free access at all times to clean, dry housing. Housing must protect the pigs from rain, wind, heat and cold, and have an impervious, smooth non-slip floor. Space allowances for housing must comply with the Model Code of Practice for pig welfare. Any edible bedding used must be from an organically certified source.

If there is insufficient natural shade in the paddocks, additional shade must be provided by using materials such as camouflage netting and/or shade cloth.

Feed

Feed must be from a certified-organic source and labelled accordingly. However if 100% certified-organic feed is not available, the approved certifying organisation may allow 5% of the mixture to be from uncertified sources; this could be in the form of minerals, vitamins.

Health

Vaccinations are allowed for specific endemic diseases, such as swine erysipelas and leptospirosis where the operator demonstrates that management practices can not prevent the illness. Antibiotics may be used for specific diseases. However, treated pigs and brought-in stock cannot be sold as organic.