Organic pioneers ready for next move after farm sold
WHEN the time came that Barry Darr could not take care of his land the way he wanted, he knew it was time to give the game away.
He just did not expect for it to happen so quickly.
"We ended up on the market in a roundabout kind of way, you see," he said.
"We were thinking about selling but not seriously but we were sold after being listed for just six months."
Come April 30 this year, Barry and his wife Dulcie will retire from the land, their home of 10 years.
Just where they will go exactly is yet to be decided.
Though he has not given much thought to the future beyond their moving date in April, Mr Darr said his first project would be to do up his old AS-160 International truck.
"It's just one of those things I've always wanted to do so when we retire from the land I'm actually going to do it," he said.
"But I guess no matter how long you live there's always things you want to do."
Ten years ago the couple moved from their organically certified beef and grain property at Irvingdale to their beef and grain property at Mayfield, Felton for much the same reasons as they are leaving Felton - the property was too big and Mr Darr was not satisfied he was doing the land justice.
Though the years at both Irvingdale and Felton were plagued with hard work and at times a lack of sleep, the Darrs agree they would not change a thing.
"When I think back on it I feel privileged to have grown up on the land and I'm glad my girls got the same upbringing," Mr Darr said.
"It was pretty tough going but we learnt how to take care of ourselves - especially after the trouble we'd get ourselves into.
"I believe the most meaningless task is character building."
Mrs Darr said she would not have wanted to bring her girls up any other way.
"We don't know any different but our girls learnt to be independent and have fun," she said.
For the first 25 years of his life Mr Darr worked in dairying at Gladfield and later at Upper Freestone while his wife Dulcie was busy growing up on her parents' cropping farm at Emu Vale - until an unlikely friendship was born out of a game of basketball.
"We played basketball together first, and then I followed him to table tennis," Mrs Darr laughed.
The pair married in 1973 and celebrated New Year's Day of 1974 moving to their new home (at first a double garage) at Irvingdale.
"Not that we had much to cart, we were only just starting out," Mr Darr said.
In their 31 years at the property east of Dalby, the couple successfully operated an organically certified beef and cattle farm while raising three girls.
They gained organic certification in 1990, at a time when going organic was akin to "going mad".
"It was only very new at the time. We didn't know of anyone else around us doing it, which meant for a lot of questions and whispers but it didn't worry me too much because I knew others were do
ing it, and I knew it could be done," Mr Darr said.
"I believed in the principles of organic farming."
After discovering the farming practice it took the Darrs the better part of a decade to make the full transition.
"At the start we weren't selling all of our produce as organic but by the end we'd found our feet and so had the market," Mr Darr said.
"Over time we got our soils into a cycle so that the natural predators were able to do their thing."
He believed the premium price paid for his organic wheat, barley, sorghum and beef with occasional rotations of fenugreek and buckwheat was well worth the risk.
"I was willing to wear the costs of being organic - I had to accept that every now and then I was going to have a bad year," he said.
The past 10 years at Irvingdale, however, tested his resolve as crippling drought set in.
"It was dry, and hard - the Miles Creek only filled up halfway during the floods - but I never considered buying in grain or spraying the crops," Mr Darr said.
"We just destocked to survive. There were times we didn't have any cattle but if I was going to run them I wanted to do it right.
"It was the same with cropping; neighbour always had grubs but I never had that issue because I had predators in the mix. I just had to keep my crop rotations up which took care of the weeds.
"If you've got the ground right the rest just flows on."
They left Irvingdale in search of a new adventure at the 150ha Felton property when 400ha became too much for their two-man show.
"We wanted to apply the same principles here as Irvingdale but the higher weed stress meant that we have to settle for using as little spray as possible," Mr Darr said.
Chicken litter from a neighbouring poultry meat operation is used as fertiliser.
"Just typical, now that we're leaving we're only just starting to see the benefits," Mr Darr said.
The Darrs still have another 50 head and a clearing sale at the end of March to get through though, before they will drive out the gates for the last time.
"At least cattle prices aren't disastrous at the moment, we're able to sell and still get something out of it," Mr Darr said.
In the past fortnight Mr Darr has sold 26 head of cattle making up to $2.60/kg.
Aside from doing up his truck and playing more table tennis together the pair have no concrete plans as to what their future holds beyond April 30.
"As long as we don't move into town. I don't think I could adapt back to that after 40 years on the land," Mrs Darr said.
After five years in the competition Mr Darr finished up his run at the Clifton show with his best result ever, which he said gave him "a great sense of pride".
He won best heifer in show with a 306kg hereford cross angus seven month old.