Big leap for the future

ECOLOGIST and owner of Leap Farm, Iain Field, is making moves towards sustainable farming practices.

Mr Field is fresh off a trip from Canada where he met other farmers from across the globe as part of his Nuffield scholarship.

The Nuffield scholarship allows farmers to travel overseas to study a topic relevant to their industry.

Mr Field, one of two Tasmanians in his scholarship year, is focusing on farmers’ ecological literacy through conversations about how ecological systems work and how farmers can take up better practices.

Mr Field and his wife, Kate Field, operate Leap Farm, a small dairy-goat farm in the South-East in Copping. They are working towards a sustainable future for their farm by investing in renewable energy systems and powering their cheese production through solar.

“It was just a wonderful gathering, not only did we get to learn from each other but also from experts in their fields,” he said.

“The Nuffield experience and scholarship allows you to broaden your horizons and get new ideas and put things into operation and be able to share things you learnt.

“You get the little ideas that join together to paint a big picture.”

Leap Farm was established in 2012 and sits on 108ha of land, Swiss Toggenburg dairy goats share precious relationships with the Fields.

Even the cheese produced is labelled with the names of the animals the milk came from.

With no direct farming experience or background the couple dove
into their journey having no pre- conceptions of how they were going to farm their piece of land.

“We had the intention of making cheese, we wanted a dairy, we weren’t sure if it was going to
be buffalos or goats. As it was, it was slightly easier to get the right environment for goats,” he said.

Mr Field’s background as an ecologist had him wondering what he could do to better drive his way of farming towards sustainability.

“Sometimes I used to lay awake at night thinking, am I bad farmer, am I bad person?” he said.

“Are my children going to grow up and ask why I didn’t do something about this?”

He said through his professional background he had an understanding of how ecosystems work and knowing that in Tasmania there was plenty of water, he had hoped the operation would become neutral in its environmental impact.

In 2021 Leap Farm clocked up a huge accomplishment, becoming a carbon-positive farm.

The farm powers its dairy using a solar hot-water system used to pasteurise the goats’ milk.

The Fields then use this milk to make a range of handmade Tasmanian goats cheese.

“We’re not off grid, we do use a little bit of gas, we do use diesel and we do use a little bit of petrol but we’re reducing it as much as we can where we can,” he said.

Mr Field said the bulk of the energy required to process the milk came from the solar power system, which cost very little – both for the environment and the farm operation.

He said the past 11 years with Leap Farm had been tough but there was always room for learning.

Another way Leap Farm has reduced its emissions is by producing seasonally and only using power when there’s enough sunlight.

They milk around 80 goats with total herd size of 100 during peak season and 120 during winter in the off season.

“The milk from the very simple little dairy goes in 20-litre buckets. We carry the milk into the cheese factory and then we make cheese pretty much fresh everyday.”

“So, in winter when there’s less sun, we’re not making cheese.

“We only operate with the normal lactation cycles of the goats.”

In winter they have time to do the odd jobs that are otherwise neglected during busy periods such as fencing, renovations or even a holiday.

Taking over Tongolla Cheese about six years ago, the business has grown through word of mouth and return customers. The focus is on the Tasmanian market with only 1 per cent of products going interstate.

This has allowed the couple to builder stronger relationships with consumers and set a price they want.

“We know our customers, or have very close link to them so that people

can come see how we do things,” Mr Field said.

“Farmers have been railroaded into what the market wants to pay for a product so farms haven’t been able to operate sustainably.”

“What we wanted to achieve here was to work more with nature.”

He said it was an interesting time for agriculture with a growing push for environmental change.

In 2022, Mrs Field was a finalist in the AgriFutures rural women’s award for her skincare range, Leapful, which uses a by-product from cheese-making. The recognition for the Fields’ innovative approach also saw them named Sprout’s small producer of the year in 2019.