A former tradesman who started his farm from scratch has taken out this year’s Charlie Nastasi Horticultural Farmer of the Year Award.
Mareeba man Matthew Perkes was named winner of the Award at Friday night’s Mareeba District Fruit and Vegetable Industry dinner, impressing the judges with his lime and avocado crop which has benefited from a carefully crafted fertilising and watering regime using a minimal amount of pesticides and chemicals.
Mr Perkes edged out local farmers Elio Quintieri, Sam Collins and Jose Caamano for the coveted prize, which aims to continue the legacy of the late Mr Nastasi by recognising outstanding innovation and exceptional leadership in the horticultural industry across the Atherton Tablelands and Lakeland area.
Mr Perkes gave up his job as a carpenter 13 years ago to start a new life as a farmer.
After purchasing an old banana farm, he planted just 80 lime trees and 500 avocado trees, which have since gone on to flourish through a use of commercially available organic products such as fish fertiliser, molasses and soil stimulants that release good bacteria.
Mr Perkes has now grown his “Cobra Hill Orchard” to about 2500 avocado trees and 2500 lime trees, with plans for a further expansion of 1000 avocado trees already underway.
Where possible, Mr Perkes uses liquid fertiliser on his trees to minimise wastage, ensuring minimal run off compared to granular products and an environmentally-friendly Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Hay mulch is also used.
On the technology front, he uses a special smartphone app known as “TainData Tierra”, which provides him with live data gathered from probes on soil moisture levels across his orchards. This enables Mr Perkes to specifically tailor his irrigation schedule to meet the needs of his trees.
Outside of farming, the father-of- three is junior president of Mareeba United Football Club and loves being involved in his local community.
Mr Perkes was presented the Award by Mareeba District Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (MDFVGA) president Joe Moro and Mr Nastasi’s widow, Lucy.
“There’s so many quality farmers in this region, so this a huge honour,” Mr Perkes said.
“Just to be nominated for this award was humbling. There’s a lot of respect for it and everyone knows Charlie was highly regarded for the way he ran his business over the years.”
Mr Perkes said he put his success down to being relatively new to the industry and being open to try new-age farming practices.
“I think I’ve taken on everybody’s advice and looked at the best way of doing things,” he said.
“But I’ve got to keep moving forward and try to continuously innovate.”
Mr Moro acknowledged the contribution of Mr Nastasi and his family to local farming and praised all four nominees for their individual achievements, which were difficult to separate.
“It’s not just about the winner but it’s about promoting the industry and the innovation and leadership shown by all four nominees,” he said.
“There are many fine farmers across the Tablelands who are leading the way in these areas.
“As an industry, we are the backbone of the local community and everyone appreciates the important work that farmers do.”
The Industry dinner featured more than 350 people in attendance with a charity auction of fruit and vegetable boxes raising $18,550 for the Mareeba Friends of the Hospital Foundation and $4550 for the MDFVGA.