AUSTRALIA’S largest chilli grower is linking closely with a local university to help get back to more natural growing methods.
Austchilli founder, David DePaoli, has embraced a partnership with Central Queensland University to address issues affecting on-farm production.
Mr DePaoli said reducing dependency on crop protectants and improving soil health were among his top priorities.
“I really want to get back to more natural farming practices and away from traditional agriculture’s reliance on chemicals,” Mr De Paoli said.
“My nature is to understand why things are or aren’t working and that’s why I partnered with the university to put more detailed science behind our business decisions.”
CQUniversity researchers are now working at Austchilli on a range of research projects including assessments of soil treatments and the deployment of drone-mounted sensors to measure crop health.
“By bringing academic knowledge together with our practical skills, we have the great situation of being able to test theoretical knowledge in real-world situations,” Mr DePaoli said.
“And the more we support each other, the better it will be for Bundaberg and for the future of our community.”
The strength of the relationship was recognised recently with a Federal Government Innovations Connections grant to employ a research officer on site to provide independent assessment of crop treatments.
The partnership with Austchilli has also extended to supporting CQUniversity students, with honours student Kim Woodward recently receiving a job at Austchilli, while second-year Bachelor of Agriculture student Polani Shadur used a voluntary work experience period to impress Mr DePaoli.
“Polani worked so well and never said no to any of the hard yakka - I felt that if he was prepared to put in the hard yards then I’m prepared to put him on the books,” Mr De Paoli said.
Mr Shadur’s duties included collecting samples for data analysis and applying a range of compost treatments to crops.
“The Research in Agriculture subject I’ve taken as part of my degree has been directly relevant to the work I have been doing at AustChilli, so the course and the work experience have been a great fit,” Mr Shadur said.
Upon graduation at the end of next year Mr Shadur is eyeing a career in the booming ag-tech sector, and earlier this year was part of the CQUniversity team which won the prestigious Telstra Innovation Challenge for a prototype of a Flexible Fertigation Pump System for orchards and farms.