Steve Marsh And The Bad Seeds

Ian Walker | The Global Mail | February 10, 2014

Wind and rain swept two Australian neighbours into a court battle about genetically modified crops, a case with implications for agribusiness, activists and pretty much everyone who eats.

Southerly winds were sweeping through Western Australia’s wheat belt and the 2010 November rains were heavy on Steve Marsh’s farm, Eagle Rest. Wedge-tailed eagles soaring above the estate enjoyed a spectacular view. For hundreds of kilometres, in all directions, lay a patchwork of luminous yellow and green – canola, wheat and barley pastures, broken by occasional paddocks of meandering sheep and cattle.

Marsh, a farmer like his dad before him, was growing oats, rye, wheat and spelt. The son had spent years experimenting with the idea of changing his farming practises from conventional to organic. In the decisive test, he’d divided a barley field in half and used commercial fertiliser on one side, but a more natural, mineralised preparation on the other. The conventional approach yielded slightly more, he says, but the other crops proved of higher quality and capable of attracting a better price – suitable for making malt, rather than for feeding livestock.

Marsh harvested his first organic crop in 2004.

“I guess,” he says, “I needed to prove to myself, before I went and got certified organic, that I wasn’t going to go broke at the same time.” He didn’t go broke. Quite the opposite. Before long, he was selling to artisanal bakeries in the big cities, where people would pay $7 a loaf for organic spelt bread. He started milling flour, and running some organic fat lambs. Business was good.