JUST how much sustainable farming is happening in the Mary Valley and Gympie region?
That's the question Professor Tor Hundloe is asking as he travels around the region, looking at small farms which have converted or are converting to, "certified organic" status.
Professor Hundloe - who has family ties to the region, being the oldest grandchild of Dick and Linda Salmon, early dairy farmers in the Wolvi Mountain area - is the author of two books.
The latest, which will be in bookstores early next year, is about Australia's role in helping feed the ever growing global population.
During his research for the book, he became more aware of the growing interest in organic farming in the country and now, with his book at the printers, he is searching out as many farms as possible to document and analyse the organic farming movement.
He is being assisted by a small group of Bond University (Gold Coast) students who are studying organic, sustainable and environmental friendly agriculture as their final year research project.
Professor Hundloe has already travelled to central Queensland and the Atherton Tablelands and is now concentrating on our region, which he said, was one of few in Australia taking to organic farming in a big way.
"Many are ex-dairy farms which have converted to small scale beef properties, which, if not already certified organic are heading in that direction," Professor Hundloe said.
"There are also chicken farms, pig farms, fruit and vegie farms, all going the same way," he said.
On Monday, he visited two organic farms, including Dick Schroeder's Cooloola Milk farm near Dagun on the Mary Valley Rd; and on Tuesday, he met Sunshine Coast Council staff at the council's Valdora Solar Farm on the Yandina/Coolum Rd.
He and his team have visited six farms in the region so far and hope to eventually see at least a dozen, perhaps even as many as 20.
"Most organic meat comes from way out west, many from large stations on the Queensland/Northern Territory border. There are not many areas nearer the coast and most of the farms we're visiting used to be dairy.
"It's fascinating because these farms are providing a niche prime product to the Brisbane and Sunshine Coast markets - and demand is growing all the time.
"Folk in the Mary Valley and Gympie region generally have smaller farms and are running small herds with perhaps 100 to 200 head, turning out 20 to 40 head a year for market."
Professor Hundloe said the research was vital because Australia was heading towards being the future "food basket of Asia".
"Look, we'll be a major player," he said.
"With increasing demand for example, from the growing middle classes in China, it's as yet unknown how significant the alternative market will be.
"We see an increasing role these farms are playing in Europe and the US, and Australia, with its clean green image, is so well positioned to meet overseas markets.
"We can go so much further and better, because organic farming looks after the environment, doesn't deplete nutrients and animals are treated humanly, so there is significant potential.
"But until we have finished our research, we won't know how significant that potential is."