FERGUS O’Connor – a beef farmer from Berry’s Creek near Leongatha – believes the vegan ultimatum of not eating all meat is, ‘utter nonsense,’ and is sure farming can be done sustainably.
Fergus relates beef quality to supermarket egg options.
“Everyone knows the supermarket egg situation. There’s a variety of eggs at different prices. Free range, cage-free, and conventional eggs,” he said.
“You get what you pay for – the product and life of the animal varies greatly,” Fergus said.
Fergus has spent his life working around animals. A horse trainer for 35 years, he settled in Gippsland in 2012.
“I’ve always put myself in the animal’s shoes. My beef have clean water, trees for shade and rain protection, and good grass feed,” he said.
Fergus’ beef has been nationally recognised for its quality and most of it is sold to American buyers.
“If you want good beef, talk to your butcher and find out where their meat comes from,” Fergus said.
Butcher Graeme Finlay has operated out of Wonthaggi for 27 years and he says buying meat is like buying anything.
“You get what you pay for.
“If you buy a cheap car it will probably break down. If you buy porterhouse at the supermarket for $12.99, the quality won’t be the same,” Graeme said.
Graeme did prefer the days of local abattoirs, but is still happy with the service and quality of his Warragul based supplier.
“Radford’s is based in Gippsland, so that means most of the meat comes from here and the money stays here,” Graeme said.
Like most small retail, butchers are feeling the pinch and with the buying power and competition with supermarkets, it’s getting harder to compete.
“A lot of farmers felt the movement of get big or get out, we’ve been here for a while now and we appreciate our loyal customers,” he said.
Fergus is confident his meat is sustainable. He says the past years have continued to show economic growth and use minimal resources.
“Our accountant has asked how we manage to keep producing great results with minimal fertilisers, but we think it comes down to keeping our practice as natural as possible,” he said.
Not retired by any means, but in his seven years at the farm, Fergus continues to invest time to learn about best practices.
“You’ve got to keep learning, as soon as you stop learning, you start dying,” he said.
Fergus regularly attends Landcare field days, Farmers for Climate Action and is a member of three Gippsland Landcare networks.
Talking with Fergus, it’s obvious he’s well-read. He’s up to date on Australian BOM reports, UN studies, farming policies, and regularly attends Landcare events around Gippsland.
“There are farms out there, in Australia and particularly in America that are farming in a way that’s unnatural and bad for the environment,” he said.
“Feedlots promote unnatural grazing, the animals eat grains all day and the result is they use a lot more water,” Fergus said.
Fergus understands that from reading The Gourmet Farmers by Matthew Evans, and from his own research, that his farm uses a relatively small amount of water.
“We produce a kilo of beef for just under 200 litres of water,” he said.
“The feedlots in Queensland and New South Wales, per kilo they are up to 8000 litres of water,” he said.
“In America in the feedlot system, which is how 90 per cent of their beef is reared, they use 18,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of beef,” Fergus said.
As water becomes an increasingly valued commodity, Fergus believes parts of Gippsland should be reserved for farming.
“Because our most valuable commodity in Australia is actually our water and we shouldn’t be abusing it,” he said.
“You should work within your farm’s limits; if you don’t have the rain, you have to be very, very conservative.
“We’re hugely fortunate in South Gippsland and the Bureau of Meteorology is saying this part of the country is being the least affected by climate change.
“And that’s why we shouldn’t be building houses on this fantastic bit of land in this area,” Fergus said.
In 1997, Australia passed federal legislation defining ‘sustainable agriculture’ as agricultural practices and systems that maintain or improve […] the economic viability of agricultural production; the social viability and well-being of rural communities; […] biodiversity; the natural resource base [and] ecosystems that are influenced by agricultural activities.
Sustainable farming can be done best in Gippsland