Soil is key to climate change solutions - Organics News from OANZ

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Governments around the world - and here in New Zealand - are increasingly accepting of the strong contribution organic production makes to health, the environment and trade. Yet the Government’s climate change solutions released yesterday leave an open opportunity to identify the valuable role that organics can make to sustainability and the environment.

As much carbon can be locked up in our soil as in our forests. Active and stable soil - like soil under good organic management - is more fertile and better at storing and utilizing the “greenhouse gases” methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.

OANZ’s submission to MAF on sustainable land management in March noted that The Royal Society in Britain wants soils to be the primary focus for global carbon sequestration, and went on to say that:

“The USA Rodale Institute New Farm research project in cooperation with Cornell University has documented in a long term study that a soil farmed organically can sequester four thousand kilograms per hectare more carbon than the same soil farmed conventionally.”

In fact, the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial - conducted over a 23-year period - showed that soil carbon increased by 15-28% in organic systems, and retained more water during periods of drought. Active, carbon-rich soil can also retain higher levels of phosphates and nitrates, which could otherwise be lost as runoff into streams and lakes - a major environmental problem in parts of New Zealand.

As an increasing number of people see the health, environmental and trade benefits of organic production, it’s time that policy-makers looked beyond the ‘usual suspects’ of electricity, dairy and forestry - and started recognizing the positive role that well-managed organic soil can play in sustainable land management and combating climate change.

Energy and passion create multi-million dollar organic soup business

The Pitango brand of organic soups is well-known in New Zealand supermarkets. In fact, the company has more than 30 per cent of the fresh soup market in this country and is even more dominant in Australia, where is has more than 80 per cent of the market.

Pitango soups are also selling well in Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada. This phenomenal success has occurred in just seven years, since Ofer and Yasmin Shenhav founded Pitango after arriving in New Zealand from Israel.

The couple originally started selling a range of organic pasta salads in 1999. But as winter arrived, they realised they needed to supply something more suitable for the colder weather. Yasmin was frustrated by the lack of healthy, pre-packaged soups on offer in New Zealand supermarkets. So they decided to develop a range of soups that were not only organic but also easy for busy people to prepare.

Their first soups were tomato & thyme, and pumpkin (with dash of ginger). Today, Pitango’s soup range has grown to 11 flavours, and they have also added a range of organic hummus dips.

Exports vital to Pitango’s growth

Organic Spring Lamb Soup is part of a growing range of premium organic soups made by Auckland company Pitango

Pitango’s total sales last year were worth $5.5 million and the company now employs more than 30 staff at its factory on Auckland’s North Shore. It is an inspiring business success story by any measure, and all the more so because of its focus on organic products.

Pitango ventured into the Australian market in 2003 and its soups and dips are now selling strongly in Woolworths and IGA supermarkets across the country.

Exports represented almost 50 per cent of Pitango’s total sales last year, up from 33 per cent in 2005 and just 2.5 per cent in 2004. This indicates how vital the export side of the business has been to the company’s growth.

In recognition of this phenomenal export success, Pitango recently won the Organic Products Exporters of New Zealand’s New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Organic Export Award.

Ofer and Yasmin believe one of the keys to their export success has been to secure good distributors and also partnering with a good air-freight and logistics company. In a wider sense, the success of Pitango is due to a combination of factors. The company has created some innovative flavours of soup, focusing on fresh, organic ingredients and, above all, presented them in attractive packaging.

The ultimate secret to the business, though, is Ofer and Yasmin’s energy and passion for producing healthy, organic food, which is still as strong as ever.

WWOOF experience gives unique insight into Kiwi organics sector


Philippa Jamieson

When Dunedin writer Philippa Jamieson quit her city job and set out on a two-and-a-half year working holiday on organic farms around New Zealand, it was the beginning of a truly life-changing journey. The farms were all part of the WWOOF scheme (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Philippa volunteered on 40 properties during her working holiday, including market gardens, livestock farms and communes.

She tells of her experiences in a new book, The Wild Green Yonder, which gives a rare insight into the kind of people who make up the heart and soul of the organics movement in New Zealand. In fact, some of organics’ unsung heroes can be found in the book - forward-thinking Kiwis who are quietly working away at producing healthy food without toxins, saving heirloom crop varieties, practising self-sufficiency and improving the soil for the next generation.

Philippa discovered organics has moved away from its “hippie” stereotype and is becoming more mainstream. But those involved in the organics sector are still overwhelmingly motivated by the philosophy of growing food naturally.

“More organic producers should look to the WWOOF movement as an ideal source of cheap labour …”

While the book tells the story of the WWOOF scheme from a volunteer worker’s perspective, it also provides some valuable insights for organic producers. Particularly, Philippa believes more organic producers should look to the WWOOF movement as an ideal source of cheap labour, given the relative labour intensity of organic production. To be involved in WWOOF, a property does not have to be certified organic but the owners must have a strong philosophical commitment to organic principles.

More than 1000 properties around New Zealand are now involved in the WWOOF scheme and more than 4500 workers volunteer through the scheme every year. Most are overseas visitors who are backpacking around the country. Philippa believes it is a pity more Kiwis don’t also volunteer, as they would gain a unique insight to a different way of life. WWOOFers get free accommodation and food (but no payment).

The Wild Green Yonder is informative, entertaining and inspiring for anyone who is looking for a different perspective on life. It also offers a unique view on where organic farming is at in New Zealand today.

Inspired by her WWOOFing experiences, Philippa has now joined the national council of the Soil and Health Association.

The Wild Green Yonder is available at most major booksellers throughout New Zealand. If you have difficulty finding a copy, contact �
Hearing date set for GE trial case

A hearing date for a legal challenge against ERMA’s approval of field trials of GE brassica has been set for March 31, 2008.

GE Free New Zealand has challenged ERMA over its approval of an application by Crop and Food Research to field test a range of brassic crops over a ten year period.

In recent weeks the challenge has gained widening support with Organics Aotearoa New Zealand, BioGro NZ and the Biodynamic Association also filing in support of the appeal.

ERMA received 940 submissions asking that the GM Bt Brassica application be declined in light of known dangers to the New Zealand economy, public and animal health which make any legitimate commercial release virtually impossible. All bodies who have filed with the court made submissions at the time of the application.

GE Free New Zealand appealed the ERMA decision to approve the field trial of GE brassica on points of law. The appeal submitted that the field test conditions have not been met and in particular that no testing has been required on the long term effects on ecosystems, animal or human health. Scientific studies have shown that Bt gene has been linked to human ill health and animal deaths.

“It is good to know that there is such strong support for our stand around clarifying the issue of what is required under the law” said Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ.

“We believe that ERMA should have declined this application as it did not fulfill the requirements of the HSNO Act in relation to the final outcomes that are required for GE in regard to economic, environmental and community safety.”

Antibiotics in manure could pose risk to organic production

Antibiotics in manure, which are consumed by plants, may be of particular concern to the organic industry.

A new American study suggests routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock may be contaminating the environment and could threaten the integrity of organic farming.

The study, by the University of Minnesota, evaluated whether food crops accumulate antibiotics from soils spread with manure that contains antibiotics.

They looked at corn, lettuce and potatoes, grown on soil containing liquid hog manure containing Sulfamethazine, a commonly used veterinary antibiotic. They found the antibiotic was taken up by all three crops. Concentrations of antibiotics were found in the plant leaves, and concentrations in plant tissue also increased as the amount of antibiotics present in the manure increased.

The study suggests root crops, such as potatoes, carrots, and radishes, that directly come in contact with soil may be particularly vulnerable to antibiotic contamination.

The lead scientist in the study, Holly Dolliver, notes antibiotics consumed by plants may be of particular concern to the organic farming industry. Manure is often the main source of crop nutrients for organic food production. While the use of manures containing antibiotics are discouraged, they are not formally banned or prohibited by organics certifying bodies.

The study notes the adverse impact of consuming plants that contain small quantities of antibiotics is largely unknown. Consumption of antibiotics in plants may cause allergic reactions in sensitive populations, such as young children. There is also concern that consuming antibiotics may lead to the development of antimicrobial resistance, which can render antibiotics ineffective.

The university is continuing its research into the presence of antibiotics in food crops, especially vegetables that are consumed raw, and how different plants absorb different antibiotics.

New organic restaurant for Rotorua

A new organic restaurant is set to open next month in Rotorua.

It will be known as NB’s organic restaurant and its owner, Nick Kolsen, describes it as� “like a Hard Rock Cafe, without the memorabilia”. The restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week and will cater for up to 180 diners. All its meat dishes, including beef and pork, are New Zealand products, certified as organic. All eggs used in the restaurant will be free-range.

German student seeks work on NZ organic farm

A 20-year-old student from Germany, Peter Waldmann, is looking for work in the organics sector in New Zealand between November and January. Peter has previously worked on organic farms in Germany for several years. He has experience in cropping, dairy farming, forestry and animal husbandry. If you might have a job for Peter, please email him at

Diary these dates

EcoShow - Taupo, 11-14 October 2007. A national event about making sustainability a real option. Take part in the conversation with national and international speakers, exhibitors, demonstrations and workshops. More information at

Organics News Roundup

A selection of recent stories on organics from news media in New Zealand and around the world.

Marlborough vineyard herbicide use now touching 70% soil coverage 20/09/2007

The Soil & Health Association is calling for Sustainable Wine Growing to lift its game, as close to 70% of Marlborough’s grape growing area is currently herbicide sprayed,” said spokesperson Steffan Browning. “No wonder the industry changed its marketing strategy away from ‘The Riches Of a Clean Green Land.’”

“With excellent organic management alternatives now in use, it would have been better to aspire to giving credibility to ‘the riches of a clean green land,’ rather than putting the health of the community and the reputation of New Zealand at risk.” A recent $100,000 rebranding with the “Pure Discovery” tagline was launched to replace a 15-year-old generic brand line ‘The Riches Of a Clean Green Land.’ “Pure Discovery may soon be about the aquifers and health of communities near the vineyards of New Zealand as the herbicide active ingredients, metabolites and surfactants leach and drift,” said Browning. More …

Britain: organic sales hit ?2 billion mark 19/09/2007

Organic food and drink sales in the UK hit the �2 billion mark for the first time in 2006, equalling a market growth rate of 22 % during that year. The retail market for organic products has grown by an average of 27 % a year during the last decade. Retail sales of organic products through organic box schemes, mail order and other direct sales increased from ? 95 million to ? 146 million, a growth of 53 % compared with 2005. This means growth is more than double that of the major supermarkets. Sales of organic baby food increased by 7 % to an estimated ? 78 million. The organic poultry market continued to expand rapidly with a plus of 39 %.

The health and beauty sectors have also experienced an enormous increase. In 2006, the number of health and beauty products licensed with the Soil Association rose by 30%. The market for organic cotton products also grew very fast. It is estimated that if the market for organic cotton products continues to grow at the same rate, it will be worth ? 107 million by next year. More …

Organic farming changes fortune of Rajasthani farmers

The Economic Times (India) 15/09/2007

Farmers in villages in Jhunjhunu district are not affected by the problems that have driven their counterparts in Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra’s Vidharbha region to suicide, thanks to the steady incomes generated by organic farming. There are like other farmers across the country. The only difference is that they pursue organic farming, in which they use natural manure or vermicast - which is made from the process of vermiculture - instead of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Though organic farming is not new to India, it is yet to become popular enough to be followed by farmers on a large scale. But those who have adopted it in this region certainly show signs of a better life. More …

The individual comments and views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily represent the view of OANZ.

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1. Teresa Brown - July 20, 2009

This is an amazing and inspirational sight.
Thank you so much.
I have started a stall at the local Kuirau Park market selling organic fresh fruit and veges in Rotorua.
As I so support what this document says.
At last I am on my true path in support of organics and the protection of our country and planet.

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