Introducing Warren Pensini of Blackwood Valley Beef from Boyup Brook in Western Australia. Warren’s story is number 33 of 52, in my celebration of The Australian Year of the Farmer.
Summary of your family and farming enterprise
Blackwood Valley Beef is located on 1640 acres in the gently undulating countryside of the Blackwood Valley in the South West of W.A. Our farm is managed “holistically” employing planned grazing methods which ensures ground cover year round, and “true environmental sustainability”. Our farm is also certified organic by Australian Certified Organic, ensuring our pastures are grown as naturally as possible and completely free of any chemical inputs.
Our heritage is Italian, so we are passionate about family and food. With Blackwood Valley Beef, we combine both. Our family has been raising cattle in Western Australia since 1920. While our herd has moved from the market gardens of Osborne Park to the fertile pastures of the Blackwood Valley, the way they’re raised is virtually unchanged. Great-grandfather, Giovanni Pensini, followed Slow Food principles before the term was coined. We uphold them by ensuring our cattle are hand selected, exclusively grass-fed and raised in a low stress environment on our Australian Certified Organic farm.
Our Holistic Goal – ‘to produce quality food ethically in a manner that has minimal impact and stress on our animals, community and environment, while creating a positive financial outcome for our family’. We manage our property holistically and the above goal communicates the outcomes we strive to achieve. Farming food has become very much an industrial business, to what we believe is the detriment of farmed animals, the community and the environment. At Blackwood Valley Organic Beef we seek to address these issues, and at the same time earn enough income to support our family by selling what we produce at fair value.
In Western Australia we farm some of the most fragile and worn soils in the world, so farming here is very challenging. Add to this the effects of climate change and declining rainfall, it soon becomes clear the old European ways of farming are not sustainable. As part of our holistic management at Blackwood Valley Organic Beef we practice rotational grazing methods and regularly monitor grass growth thus ensuring we always have the appropriate amount of cattle on the farm. These methods were developed in Southern Africa in an environment similar to ours and closely mimic the natural herd movements of the herding Southern African herbivores. The herd movements of our cattle help to maintain our soil fertility through the stock fertilizing the paddocks, and through the cattle recycling plant material into the soil through trampling.
Our goal is to always have 100% ground cover to protect our soils from both water and wind erosion, thus protecting our environment and ensuring our way of farming is sustainable now and into the future. We are also establishing perennial grasses on our farm which will have the triple benefit of providing year round green grass for our cows, help combat the scourge of salinity that plagues our farming environment here in WA and provide a carbon sink for the storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Along with our organic methods of using no artificial fertilizers or chemicals to produce the beef we sell, we minimize the impact our food production system has on the wider community.
With our rotational grazing methods our cattle are regularly moved into fresh paddocks, thus ensuring good growth rates are maintained, eliminating the need for chemicals to control parasites, and our cattle become docile due to regular handling. This all contributes to the end quality of the beef we produce. When our cattle are handled and transported they are moved using low stress stock handling methods, which ensures a quieter more contented animal, this also has an effect on the overall eating quality of our beef.
There is now very good research coming out of the US to show that grass-fed beef has elevated levels of beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids and lower levels of the inflammatory producing Omega 6. The ratio of Omega 6 fatty acids to Omega 3 in Western diets has dramatically changed in the last 40 years, and there is growing evidence to suggest that this change is having a dramatic effect on human health. On top of the Omega 3 benefits grass-fed beef has also been shown to contain as much as 300-500% higher rates of Conjugated Linoleic Acid, or CLA , than regular beef. CLA has been shown in lab tests to have some Anti-Cancer fighting properties as well as being powerful in fighting inflammation and aiding in weight loss. The rates of chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease are rapidly increasing in our community, on top of the growing epidemic of obesity, and in most cases this can be put down to poor diet and nutrition.
For you, what is the best lifestyle factor that you enjoy as a farmer?
The freedom to work when you need to, sometimes this can get in the way, particularly when you are working with animals, however the majority of time we are able to plan family time out when we need it. Not being stuck to the 9 to 5.
What do you foresee as your biggest short term and long term challenges in farming?
Short Term: Securing and developing an export market for our beef and charcuterie products.
Long Term: Climate Change – We live in a part of the world where winter rainfall is declining alarmingly due to climate change, and we produce a grass-fed beef product. So, no rain means no grass. We are a long way off that occurring, however we need to adapt our business to meet the weather challenges that lay ahead.
What do you wish non-farmers / city people & the Australian Government understood about farming and what message would you like to put on a billboard in Collins Street?
Care about how your food is produced. Look in the mirror, you are what you eat. Eat healthy, eat local.