Benefits and costs of producing free-range or organic pork

Organic pork products can sell for up to 50% more at market than conventionally raised pork. Currently only about 5% of pigs grown in Australia are raised in free-range systems but organic farming is one of Australia’s high growth industries.

Converting to organic farming aims to improve environments on the farm, as well as soil health, biodiversity and water quality for the surrounding area. Studies have also shown that organic farms have greater resilience in drought.

How organic farming is different

Organic farming is different to conventional farming in several fundamental ways. For example, organic farming focuses on soil health, which enables higher quality cropping and foraging.

Once your farm becomes certified organic, you will be able to guarantee to your consumers that synthetic compounds such as herbicides, pesticides, hormones and genetically modified materials have not been used at any stage in your production processes.

Organic pork supply chain

The whole supply chain for an organic pork product is certified and inspected, from birth to death and including post-farm gate activities such as transport, slaughter, processing and packaging. All steps in these processes are documented and traceable.

Animal husbandry and welfare

Animal husbandry and welfare is fundamental to free-range pig management. Your animals must be allowed free use of meadows or croplands to encourage normal social behaviour. Pigs are raised outdoors, and must have access to rooting areas, wallows, and fallowing areas for piglets. You must provide shelter for pigs during hot or cold weather.

Costs of converting to organic

You will have to factor in some added costs for converting to organic. For example, because chemical pesticides are prohibited, there are higher costs for processes such as pasture monitoring and weeding. Free-range herds cost less to set up, but are slightly less productive in terms of weight gain, as sows can eat more to compensate for uncontrolled temperatures, so there can be greater feed wastage.

You should expect the process of becoming certified organic to take more than 3 years. You will need to budget for this.

Considering organic farming

If you are considering organic farming, processing or marketing, you should assess if you have the skills to get started and the knowledge to build profitable production systems.

Support exists to help you make this decision and make the transition to organic farming:

Site selection

The National Environmental Guidelines for Piggeries lists the site selection requirements for a free-range and organic piggery.