Growing organic ginger relies on soil health

KEEPING IT NATURAL: Organic farmer Dave Forrest.
KEEPING IT NATURAL: Organic farmer Dave Forrest. Jamie Brown

THE blood, sweat and tears that organic grower Dave Forrest invested in his red soil ginger farm has paid exciting dividends in the wake of several very wet years.

It seems the heavy rain events up until this current growing season wreaked havoc on his competition - the conventional plantations, with fungal diseases taking root in badly depleted soils.

The result is a sharp shortage of ginger and a subsequent price hike for mainstream suppliers, though Dave has kept his market price the same.

On my three farms we grow about 40 different varieties of produce, from about 10 different food groups

Now the only hiccup is the suggestion that Fiji-grown ginger be imported to Australia, at great risk of bringing new forms of fungal disease to our shores.

All of this points to Dave's clean, green ginger seed stock retaining its high value. Of course, success did not come easily.

For this Federal farmer, located among the verdant rolling hills west of Byron Bay, organic agriculture has been a driving passion for the past 36 years, and the three smallholdings he works in the area now provide a continuous stream of certified organic produce.

Somehow he finds the time to teach agriculture at TAFE, as well as help manage and direct the Tweed Richmond Organic Producers Organisation - better known as TROPO.

"On my three farms we grow about 40 different varieties of produce, from about 10 different food groups," said Dave, who started with a goat dairy when he moved onto the land as a new-age settler in 1978.

However, Dave's latest foray into organic ginger looks especially promising because of the great demand for this certified organic product that offers so many health benefits - it is anti-inflammatory, good for digestion, moderates fatty acids in the blood and has anti-cancer properties.

On top of that, the robust nature of Dave's soil is producing ginger that is free of debilitating fungal disease.

Quite simply, Dave's soil is alive with a diversity of organisms that help keep disease in check.

When you walk into his ginger patch the soil easily slumps under your feet - testament to the amount of compost that has gone onto the ground.

When you dig among the roots, the soil comes free in light, soft clumps.

It is damp and dark and full of worms.

Dave has charged his soil with basalt dust and lime and has encouraged carbon content through the use of green manure.

"Basalt dust has the full periodic table of minerals and we make those available to the plants through the use of compost," he said.

The result is a larger and broader population of soil biology. In fact, over the years this farmer has increased his soil carbon by 5%, or 100 tonnes to the hectare - all contained within the top 200mm of soil - simply by managing plant and soil health.

Organic produce: too dear?

ALL of Dave's produce is sold at local organic farmers' markets, thereby cutting out the middleman. And while local produce sold at farmers' markets tends to be 25% cheaper than similar fruit and vegetables on offer in the major supermarkets, the returns to the grower are better, simply because there is no one else with a stake in the final sale.

"For the past 10 years organic food has been the fastest-growing sector in agriculture," Dave said.

And as far as organic produce being expensive, ABS figures state we spend twice as much of our precious income on junk food than on fresh fruit and vegetables.

Topics:  horticulture