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History of Manna Farms by Ian Keens

History of Manna Farms by Ian Keens

Manna Farms supply us with Certified Organic citrus and avocados.

A fourth generation farmer in Australia, I was born in Mildura, North West Victoria, educated in Merbein and Mildura before completing a diploma of Agriculture at University. I spent three years with the Department of Agriculture, Mildura in the research and extension before returning to manage one of the family citrus properties. I bought a share in a new property acquired by my family in 1969. This was unplanted and I began to grow vegetables while establishing an almond orchard – a new crop for this area. Many mistakes were made in pioneering almond production, but eventually we won through.

In 1982 we bought out our neighbour, a little bit of citrus but mainly undeveloped land. In 1984 we acquired a further 400 acres, 20 acres of citrus and 100 acres of pristine mallee scrub land.

I had been well tarred with the chemical brush while working at the Agriculture Department. This was reflected in my very high input farming method, and I soon started to have problems with soil compaction, water penetration and soil born fungal diseases. Conventionally I could not find the answers to these problems, even though much money was spent on soil amelioration, ripping and chemicals. It only made the situation worse.

In search for alternative farming methods, I was pointed in the direction of Biodynamics by my sister Jenny who had considerable experience in Anthroposophy and the teachings of Dr. Rudolph Steiner. I found his teachings intriguing and very interesting, and when properly explained it just seemed common sense.

I contacted Mr. Alex Podolinsky, the authority in Australia, and read his book. Soon Alex had me setting up Biodynamic 500 soil spray. It was the middle of winter and not the right time to spray 500. It was not until I had done the fourth application that I got it right and within two weeks the soil that had set like concrete under the conventional farming system had returned to what looked like good soil again.

The implementation of the Biodynamic method in the citrus was relatively easy and we quickly saw and tasted the difference. The almonds on the other hand were extremely difficult, mainly because the equipment harvested off the orchard floor. This requires a very smooth, hard, weed free surface to harvest from and is very much against Biodynamic principles. Congested orchards, difficult varieties and overhead sprinklers further impacted on our progress. We eventually developed a method on four acres of almonds and once we became confident, we doubled to eight acres and then to sixteen. It took eighteen years to get all the almonds certified by Demeter and refinement of the method is constantly an ongoing process.

My son David has left the city life in Melbourne and has returned to oversee and manage the growing family business as I have wound back my day to day duties. David has great business experience from his work in Melbourne and has been a real asset to the family business since returning home. By having David oversee everything it gives me more time to focus on the important things which are the health and vitality of the orchards to make sure that we continue to grow the best Biodynamic/organic produce.

Over the last 3 years, Manna Farms has acquired two more properties, another 110 acres all of which are citrus and another 400 acre property, 210 acres of almonds, 100 acres of citrus, 10 acres of avocadoes and 80 acres of vacant land. Both of these properties will adopt the biodynamic farming methods that have been so successful for us in farming and in living a natural and healthy life on the land.