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Winter 2015

A Long Family History In The Proserpine Region

The town of Proserpine lies 90 kilometres north of Mackay and 260 klm south of Townsville. Its origins date back to the 1890s, following the construction of the first sugar mill, but there had been large cattle runs in the area since the very early 1860s. One of the first settlers in Bowen was Daniel Emmerson, who took up a lease in 1861, and in 1882 his son Joe, with his wife Amelia, moved to the Proserpine area. They took up the Amelia Vale Station, and later also the Proserpine Station, where they ran cattle and horses.

A few generations later, much change has affected the area. The return trip to Bowen, which is about 68 kilometres away, does not take three days any more, and sugar has replaced cattle at the heart of Proser- pine’s primary production. The Emmersons, however, are still there, and cousins Craig and David Emmerson own the Proserpine Harvesting Company. They started their business five years ago, originally harvesting 95,000 tonnes which has recently increased by 85,000 to a total of around 180,000 tonnes.

Craig started off on his own as a young fifteen year old, when he inherited a farm from one of his great-uncles, and he and his father currently run a sugar property as well. He has always loved farming, and does not mind the long hours that he puts in and the tough times that may come, especially with a crop that is weather-driv- en. When doing the hard yards, he just keeps working harder and his secret is ‘don’t give in!’

Proserpine Harvesting Company relies on John Deere equipment to carry out their operations with minimal issues. Their two new 6150M haul out tractors come with a five year / 5,000 hours warranty , which gives Craig and David peace of mind, and the team and Vanderfield Mackay are always there for them if the need arises.

Craig and David rely on the John Deere Greenstar Guidance System to meet their planting and harvesting needs and those of their clients, including Faust Farming (who have their whole farm set up to benefit from the VNET Precision Farming RTK Network). Using the John Deere Guidance System, Craig has found that efficiency increases, as there are less overlaps, with time being saved and the operator being freer to keep an eye on other key machine functions.

The area has also seen a downturn in mining in the last couple of years, with many people losing their jobs. Proserpine Harvesting, however, have been able to employ around twenty people. These are good, reliable employees, and, in spite of the seasonal components of what they do, about 75% of Proserpine Harvesting workers have a secure job all year round, as the planting and harvesting seasons alternate with day-to-day maintenance of machinery and other tasks. With the most recent harvests having been good, these seem to be good times for this family business. May there be many more good seasons ahead of them and the sugar cane industry, and may future generations of Emmersons continue to work the land and love what they do in the Proserpine area.

New Beginnings

Michael Riley grew up in a cane farm in Proserpine, a hop, skip and a jump from Airlie Beach, the hub of the beautiful Whitsunday Coast. Being a diesel fitter by trade, he found work in the coal mines, where he ‘met a lot of good people’. Nevertheless, work in the mines has its drawbacks; especially, being away from family and old friends can take its toll. Wanting to be home, plus a bit of a downturn in the mining industry, resulted in Michael coming back to the Proserpine area for the longer term.

Michael’s father Geoffrey grew up on a cane farm; his mother, Elaine, comes from a cattle station. As he says, sugar cane has always been ‘all around’ him and his family; it is what they have always known. With this life-long background in the industry, and a love for the region where he grew up and its people, it is only natural that Michael would want to work in the sugarcane business. At the end of the last crushing season his opportunity came and he was able to buy a cane harvesting business. Together with his brother Sam and the support of their family, this is the first year that Riley Brothers Harvesting are offering their services to the Proserpine region.

This is a young family business that currently employs three additional workers during the season. For increased reliability, Michael decided to purchase a new John Deere 3520T Sugarcane Harvester from Shane Madeley at Vanderfield Mackay. In addition, he has three other John Deere tractors to carry out his work. Asked about why he chose John Deere, Michael mentioned the high quality of their products. Besides, another feature he really appreciates in the harvester is the GreenStar GPS. As he puts it, having the advanced guidance technology with its assisted steering means ‘one less thing you’ve got to worry about’.

Riley Brothers Harvesting is set out to serve the Proserpine community for many seasons to come. Their goal is to grow their own business and be able to stay in the region and support its cane growers. But it is not all about work, either; when Michael has a break, you may be able to find him doing a bit of fishing on the Reef. And who could blame him.

An Adventurous Spirit

The town of Kununurra, founded in the 1960s, lies in the spectacular East-Kimberley region of Western Australia. The area has the two extremes of wet and dry seasons, and it is also irrigated with waters from Lake Argyle on the Ord River. This is the largest fresh water storage in mainland Australia, with a capacity of about nine times the water volume of Sydney Harbour. The area produces up to 60 different crops, including melons, mangoes and Indian Sandalwood.

Raymond (Spike) Dessert started off in California, but all that changed when he arrived in the Kununurra area early in the 1970s. He is a fourth generation seedsman who knows well the advantages of the Kununurra climate for growing seed crops, for there is a frost-free growing season, nil in-crop rain and abundant water for surface irrigation, which won’t damage the seeds. Spike founded the RB Dessert Seed Company (Austra- lia) in 1986 and set out to produce a vast range of seed crops which are exported around the world, with Japan and the US currently being their largest clients.

The seeds produced by Spike’s company are world-class, but the industry in Australia is going through an adjustment period. The current price of the Australian dollar is one factor, but there is also the disparity in production costs here in Australia compared to countries like Chile, or even the United States, one of the top world producers. Nevertheless, Spike and his family carry on producing very high quality seeds for planting and sprouting, in addition to herbs, vegetables and pasture seeds.

Spike’s daughter Kalyn looks after the seed business and the financial side of the operations, while his son, RB, is in charge of the farming and mechanical aspects. They have recently added a John Deere 7250R tractor to their equipment, purchased from Andrew Simon and his team at Vanderfield Kununurra.

When asked why they chose John Deere, the answer came in a flash: it was ‘the options’ that the tractor offered them, including the ‘front and back hitch points’ and ‘having a higher lifting capacity compared to other tractors with similar horsepower’. Spike remembers well his first John Deere tractor, a 2-cylinder horizontal machine, and he can also talk about the wonders of technology, specifically the possibilities that VNet Precision Farming offers to his business and how his modern tractors can ‘talk’ to a world-wide net. He is glad to let RB get on very capably with all things technology, though.

Spike’s brain is not one to sit idle for any amount of time, and about eighteen years ago, a trip to the wine region in Southern Australia got him thinking. He wondered whether wine production could be in the cards for him. It did not take him long to work out that the climatic conditions that suit his seed business so well are quite different from those needed to grow grapes, but, then again, the weather does suit cane production, so another idea came: what about a distillery? And that’s how The Hoochery, Western Australia’s oldest, continuously operating, legal distillery, was born.

The Hoochery is a fascinating place, built from used metal, and well worth a visit. This rather unique place is open to the public daily during the dry season and five and a half days during the wet season. Apart from offering guided tours and a large function room, it also has a saloon bar where patrons can do a spot of rum tasting, or have a counter meal and coffee and cake. Spike’s daughter Libuse takes care of the catering and functions at The Hoochery.

Spike uses local ingredients for brewing his products. He started off using the molasses from the Ord River Sugar Mill, but when it closed in 2007 Spike bought a two year supply and got into thinking again. He discovered that in north-eastern Colombia, a large exporter of sugar, cane is cut by hand, carted by horses up and down steep fields and taken to small mills that have machinery suitable for farms under five hectares. Not one to be backwards in coming forwards, Spike travelled to that area in Colombia, got the machinery he needed (‘a nano-mill’, as he puts it), and now crushes his own three or four hectares’ worth of cane. As he tongue-in-cheekily says, the size of his cane production must make him ‘the largest cane grower in Western Australia’!

The dark sugary syrup from his cane, rain water and yeast are vat-fermented, pot distilled in small lots that add up to around 40,000 bottles per year and aged in used oak barrels called ‘hog head’ wooden barrels, sourced from the Australian wine industry. The Hoochery offers a range of products of varied strengths, including rum, of course, but also whiskey, aniseed liqueur and coffee and chocolate liqueur. Spike’s products, easily recognisable by their red-eyed crocodile logo, have been recognised by the Melbourne Fine Food Awards and Australian Distilled Spirit Competition with the Australia Gold Medal and Champion Rum awards in 2014 and 2015.

When the new mill opens, Spike plans to use some of its molasses again, but it is still not clear when that will be. In the meantime, there is plenty to keep him occupied, not only in the businesses, but also the community, as Spike has been serving as Councillor for the Shire of Wyndham, East Kimberley, since 2010, and in 2013 he was elected as Deputy Shire President. Not bad for a guy from California.

Australian Tropical Delights

For many of us who enjoy either our own or someone else’s culinary efforts, ginger is a highly valued ingredient that is available year-round. Whether it is stir-fries, biscuits, cakes, sushi platters or a host of other dishes, ginger in any of its forms not only adds flavour and zing but its high gingerol content also provides anti-nausea, anti-inflammato- ry and antibacterial properties. Recent studies even seem to suggest that ginger may help maintain a stable blood sugar, so it is not surprising that some consumers have had success growing ginger in their backyards. However, most of us in Australia are likely to enjoy fresh or processed ginger grown in the Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay–Burnett regions, which contain an abundance of mineral rich, red earth soils and experience high tempera- tures and humidity, and high rainfall during summer. One of the key centres for the Queensland ginger industry is Buderim, located on a plateau 180 metres or so above sea level, around 7 kilometres south-west of Mooloolaba and 90 klm north of Brisbane. Sugar has been grown in the Buderim area since the 1870s, with bananas, coffee and citrus being other popular local early crops. Ginger growing started in Buderim in 1916, but it was the difficulties with supply brought in by the Second World War that resulted in a growth spurt for the industry.

In those war years, Allan Templeton was a young man who owned one of the first delivery trucks in the area. He was given some seed ginger by an early grower called Mr Anderson, and that was the beginning of Templeton Ginger, a leading ginger producer currently located in Eumundi (25-odd kilometres north of Buderim). Allan and his wife Valmay started their farm with a policy of ‘hard work and a hands-on approach’, and this continues to define the way in which Allan and Valmay’s son John and their grandchildren Shane and Kylie conduct business. The combined efforts of these three generations of Templetons have seen the business grow to become one of the main Australian produc- ers in the industry, supplying the market with about two and a half thousand tonnes of high-quality ginger per year.

The Templetons have been closely related to key elements of the ginger industry from the beginning. Allan Templeton together with four other farmers founded the Buderim Ginger Growers Co-Operative in 1941. In 1989, the co-operative became a public listed company, and it is now generally regarded as the ‘back bone’ of the industry. Indeed, production of ginger for Buderim Ginger is the main focus of production for most ginger growers in Australia. John and Shane Templeton have continued to support Buderim Ginger. John’s daughter, Kylie, also served for ten years as the secretary of the Australian Ginger Growers’ Association, established to support ginger growers. Kylie is currently in charge of the sales, distribution and marketing side of Templeton Ginger.

John Templeton was instrumental in achieving increased crop volume and quality in Templeton Ginger. Mechanisation has been a key way of increasing production, and John was at the forefront of the mechanisation of the ginger industry. Shane, who guides the growing and financial sides of Templeton Ginger, sees mechanisation as necessary for the industry’s success in an increas- ingly competitive international market. The team at Vanderfield Gympie, led by manager Andrew Ross, have provided the Templetons’ with different John Deere machines and continue to serve their needs. A recent innovation that Shane Templeton is excited about is incorporating GreenStar GPS to their farming practices. Adapting to new technologies is a step valued by Shane because new technologies ‘decrease costs and increase efficiency’.

The ginger industry, however, has gone through some hard times recently. Shane points out that production has been affected by a number of factors, notably Pythium disease. Pythium damages the root and the rhizome of plants and leads to crop losses. Pythium-related losses started off small about seven years ago, but, quite unexpectedly, 30% of the Templeton Ginger crop was wiped out in one year not long after that. This event, naturally, made this family do some ‘soul searching’. For Shane, who is focused on sustainable agricultural practices, wholistic management is one key to overcoming this sort of problem, and a range of measures, including but not limited to meticulous cleaning of boots and equipment to avoid cross-con- tamination, and carefully planned crop-rotation, were applied.

John, Kylie and Shane are pleased to be able to look at those times ‘from the other side’, though, with this year finally set to be a bumper year of good quality produce once again. And so this family continues to provide a valuable contribution to the sector, to our palates and to their community. In fact, their passion and initiative extend to a number of fields; John Templeton, for instance, is a former successive Queensland Association of Dance Studios Latin Champion, and the current principal of Templeton Dance Studios in Eumundi, where dancers of all levels can enhance their skills while having a great time in air-conditioned comfort. But that is another yarn...

A Rewarding Trajectory

Cotton Australia, the peak representative body for Australia’s cotton growing industry, announced the finalists for their prestigious annual Awards at the beginning of June. The Awards were first granted in 2004, and they recognise high achievement in, and valuable contribution to, the Australian cotton industry - from growers and ginners to product suppliers, consultants, agronomists, researchers and extension teams. Mr Adam Kay, Cotton Australia’s CEO, recognises that each of the 2015 finalists has made outstanding contributions to the industry, for all of them are ‘leaders in their fields, and each have contributed enormously to our industry in key areas such as on-farm best practice, research and development, innovation and community leadership’.

One of the finalists in the category Monsanto Grower of the Year and AgriRisk High Achiever of the Year are Tristram Hertslet (manager) and Robert and Jennie Reardon (owners), of Reardon Farms in Talwood. Robert and his wife Jennie, who have been farming since 1969, are originally from Moree, where Robert’s father helped them to get started in a 650Ha dryland cropping property they named ‘Limerick’. Reardon Farms do not own Limerick any more, but they have two other properties in the vicinity of Moree, which were acquired in the mid to late 70s, plus five properties in the Queensland Macintyre Valley area, near Talwood and Bungunya.

Robert began to develop his properties into irrigation almost thirty years ago, initially as a move forward from the hard times that the grain industry went through in the mid-80s. In addition to irrigated cotton, Reardon Farms currently grow dryland wheat, sorghum, barley, chickpeas, sunflowers and cotton. They also run cattle (400-450 head of cows) on areas that aren't growing crops, and operate a licensed feedlot. The farms provide employment for around 25 permanent staff plus a number of casual seasonal employees.

The ability to forge and maintain strong relationships, and to contribute to the community, weaves through the story of Robert and Jennie’s success. Robert, who also served as Councillor on the Goondiwindi Regional Council for eight years, stresses the importance of good business relationships, for example with his bank; Reardon Farms have always budgeted carefully (in fact, they currently review their budget on three key separate occasions every year), and this has helped them have a close relationship and earn the trust of their banker, WBC Moree Agribusiness, who, in Robert’s words, ‘has supported us when we needed it’. Robert also appreciates their Accountants, Boyce CA, Moree, highly, for ‘always been a very big part of our support team’.

Reardon Farms also have a very good relationship with Vanderfield St George, who Robert says provide ‘excellent service’. Reardon Farms have always been at the forefront of technology and used modern machinery and equipment in their farming practices, and to this end they boast a range of John Deere machinery, including cotton pickers, sprayers and tractors, and technology. Indeed, being on the leading edge of technology is one of several factors that Robert puts the success of his operation down to, and John Travers and his team at Vanderfield St George are proud to be able to come along and have a part in it.

Roberts’ goal has always been to ‘do a job as good as possible’, but being a good operator is only part of the story. One of the main strengths that Robert sees as a key element of success is surrounding oneself with reliable, capable staff, and Reardon Farms certainly has that. In an industry where it may be difficult at times to achieve this goal due to a variety of reasons, they have been able to connect with their community and build a workforce of quality employees that sometimes start as seasonal workers and end up staying on a permanent basis. Indeed, some of the staff at Reardon Farms have been with them for decades, and have no plans to move on. Their focus on best practice is supported by different workshops and initiatives on and off-farm that support the continuous development of team members. Like most everyone in the primary industries, Robert has had his share of tough times, but the Reardons know that ‘a bad year can be followed by a good one’, and, with that faith, they avoid putting people off, which results in higher security of employ- ment for their workers while allowing them to keep the knowledge base within the business.

It is not difficult to see why Reardon Farms are finalists in the prestigious and competitive Australian Cotton Industry Awards. We join Robert and Jennie, their daughters Julie, Kate and Margo and their families, Tristram, and the whole team in celebrating this achievement and we look forward to many more celebrations to come.

Resilience and Achievements in Times of Hardship

The Queensland town of Theodore is located on the shores of the Dawson River, rich in wildlife and central to the agricultural endeavours of the area, but also liable to burst out of its banks and flood the surrounding plains. Back in December 2010, this town was evacuated and declared a disaster area when the level of the river exceeded 14.6 metres.

Harrod and Penny Anderson, who, with their sons Mitchell (married to Charisse) and Kirk (married to Fleur) own Andcott Pty Ltd, lost 95% of their cotton crop. The Andersons, however, were not prepared to give up just yet, and, after having to invest heavily in resetting their one thousand acres for cotton production once again, were ready to pick a new crop fifteen months later.

Meanwhile, Fleur, who was the president of the Dawson Valley Cotton Growers Association, had set out to establish the true extent of the situation, and her efforts and those of the other growers resulted in increased help from the Queensland government, plus earned her the title of 2011 Young Achiever of the Year. In addition, that year Kirk was the only finalist from Queensland in the NAB Agribusiness Primary Producer of the Year Award.

Penny acknowledges that it’s been ‘a harder road to hoe’ since the 2010 flood, but she also realises that ‘looking at the long term’ is one key to overcoming adversity of this nature. The Andersons are clearly able to make the best of the hand they are dealt, as they try, in Penny’s words, to be ‘on the ball and one step onwards’. Yet better than that, these six people are committed not only to the industry and the land, but, crucially, to each other. It is in being together that they find the strength to overcome.

This family are the proud owners of a number of John Deere tractors, sprayers and cotton pickers. The machinery has been chosen because of John Deere’s ‘long history of reliability’, which, coupled with the support they receive from the Vanderfield Biloela branch and its manager, Ben Stubbs, and the team one hour up the road, minimises time spent on machinery-related issues. A relatively recent innovation to this farm has been the purchase of John Deere equipment with JD Link capability, and Harrod says: ‘Our industry has seen snowballing costs over the past 10yrs, but JD Link and similar Information technologies are allowing us to zoom in and micro manage these costs. Our enterprise relies heavily on overseas travelling labour and with this comes ever changing experience levels, JD link allows more control of this labour, with remote hook up to trouble shoot issues from a distance and monitor machine settings to ensure optimal setup and cost efficiency.’

The Andersons’ land produced its first cotton crop back in 1977, the year before Harrod and Penny got married. There have been tough times, and indeed Harrod estimates that, almost five years after the 2010 disaster, they are still half-way through to recovery. However, having just had a couple of decent years, and provided prices hold up, cotton should continue to ‘be there for them’. And it is with great hope that we see this family, and indeed many others, continuing to be at the heart of Australian primary production, giving life to so many of our towns where people like them know how to look beyond difficult circumstances that may occur and find the strength to overcome.