Representatives of a key Queensland agricultural lobby group have given a glowing endorsement of the Tablelands region, praising its innovative qualities and resilience after a recent visit.
Growcom chairman Les Williams and Hort360 innovation coach Steve Tiley both attended the recent Mareeba District Fruit and Vegetable Industry dinner earlier this month where they were able to meet face-to- face with several local farmers.
Mr Tiley said he travelled to the Tablelands region on a monthly basis from Townsville to work with five farmers implementing Growcom’s Hort360 program, a computer based risk assessment tool covering everything from finance through to water quality.
The program enables farmers to get a “360 degree view” of their business operations, identifying potential risks, capitalising on opportunities and highlighting unnecessary farm expenses.
“There is a lot of innovation going on in the region at the moment and we’re trying to help our growers achieve more of it, along with accessing some of the funding to support that,” Mr Tiley said.
“I’m working with those five growers to look at where they’re going to be in five or 10 years time, whether there’s any technology that might impact their business in the future and how we can help them with that changing management process of growth and technology to work out if they’re entitled to any government or industry assistance.
“We also mentor and coach them. Rather than just looking at one aspect of the business, we establish a good relationship where we can come in and be that person responsible for innovation on the farm and guide them through the process.”
Mr Tiley said there had been an “excellent” response from farmers to Hort360 since it was rolled out about 12 months ago, with the region’s future looking promising.
“You’ve got the whole climatic range up there with tree crops, vegetable crops and crops which could be grown for the Asian market,” he said.
“There’s great logistics and infrastructure combined with enthusiastic people.”
Mr Williams said he discussed a range of issues with local farmers on his visit, including labour and power costs, water and the threat posed by the importation of limes from the South Pacific.
The Sunshine Coast pineapple farmer said the Tablelands region was a “vibrant agricultural area”.
“You’ve got fertile land and very committed and intelligent growers who are doing a brilliant job,” he said.
“It’s good to see the industry is diversifying into other areas, such as limes and avocados.”
Both men praised the Mareeba District Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association’s annual Charlie Nastasi Horticultural Farmer of the Year Award, 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.
Mareeba farmer Matthew Perkes took out this year’s award, 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.
“I think the award is fantastic and all of the nominees were brilliant,” Mr Williams said.
“It was very impressive.”
Mareeba District Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association president and Growcom director Joe Moro said Growcom’s presence in the Tablelands region was both welcome and important to driving future growth of the industry as well as giving local farmers a voice on important issues.
“By working closely with Growcom, we can not only continue to drive innovation in our region but ensure any issues growers have are brought to the attention of powerbrokers at both a State and Federal level,” he said.
“I have no doubt that agriculture in the Tablelands region will continue to have a strong and important voice for decades to come.”