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An experienced United States vet talked to farmers about organic farming and animal health at a workshop in Gore recently.

Dr Paul Dettloff has worked for Organic Valley Dairies for the last 25 years.

He shared his knowledge at three workshops around New Zealand.

Organic Valley was founded in 1988 and started with produce such as organic milk and cheese.

The Gore workshop, on March 8, gave farmers the chance to ask questions and get advice for specific issues they were facing.

Dr Dettloff said when it came to organic farming it was important to have an open mind.

“If you’re a good conventional farmer, you’ll be a good organic farmer,” Dr Dettloff said.

The morning session of the workshop had a strong focus on soil and soil balance.

Dr Dettloff said farmers should make sure they had a good consultant who knew the Albrecht system and Reams foliar system.

The Albrecht system was one approach to achieve excellent soil fertility.

This meant soil should be composed of 4% minerals, 5% humus and 50% pore space.

Ideally, 50% air and 50% water would occupy the pore space.

The Reams system was about creating energy in soil by using interactions between different nutrients such as sulfate, phosphate and calcium. The energy created by the interactions powered the growth of the plants.

Dr Dettloff said if a farm was conventionally managed, it would be a five- to eight-year trip to become organic.

“Start with calcium, that’s the first step,” Dr Dettloff said.

He also said farmers should get soil samples from all representative areas on their farm.

These samples could usually be done every three years and should be taken in the same month each time.

“You want chocolate-cake-looking soil,” Dr Dettloff said.

One aspect he said farmers needed to measure was the pH levels of the soil.

Soil should be only slightly acidic, with a pH range between 6.5 and 6.8.

He also touched on magnesium levels and recommended one farmer use epsom salts to bring up magnesium levels.

“A lot of soils are too high in magnesium, so be aware when you add lime that you’re using high-calcium lime and not dolomite lime,” Dr Dettloff said.

A total of 80 farmers attended the workshop organised by Southern Organics Group, which included a practical afternoon session as well.

This was held at Rob Hall’s farm and allowed farmers to see how to examine the health of animals by looking at qualities such as their coats.