Posts Tagged ‘Courier Mail’
I love a good cup of tea. Rich, strong, slightly fruity – there’s nothing better.
I’ve been drinking tea for years but have never really stopped to consider where it’s grown, or how it’s grown. I’ve certainly never bothered to spare a thought for the people who grow it … until now.
A few weeks ago I interviewed tea farmer Greg Nicholas for my Ask a Farmer Column which runs in the Courier Mail every Saturday. He and his family have been growing tea on their property in far North Queensland since 1978.
They used to breed cattle and grow bananas but the costs of transporting their products from their remote property became too high. They needed a non-perishable product which wouldn’t mind waiting on farm should they be stranded by the weather (they get a massive 4m of rainfall a year).
So tea it was. Their Daintree Tea Company produces a black Assam variety tea which is sold in Woolworths, independent retailers and online.
Greg says his family’s company is the only one that produces tea that’s been 100 per cent grown and packed in Australia. The competitors blend imported teas in their varieties, he says. And they do it without electricity! Their property is run only with big generators as there is no electricity available north of the Daintree River.
Growing tea is a fairly involved process … Greg explains the paddock to plate journey.
Farmers are often portrayed as being a few stubbies short of a six pack. Slow, bumpkins, whingers … and a host of other stereotypes. I recently interviewed a Queensland apple producer who puts paid to such criticism. He’s a man who doesn’t fit any of those stereotypes.
His name is Will Thompson and he runs Lerinda Apples at Stanthorpe. Will’s journey to apple growing hasn’t been conventional. He started his working life as a Navy clearance diver, completed a Masters of Business and spent many years managing some of Queensland’s leading tropical resorts.
Now he draws on his business and navy training to run a large apple production business as that – a business. He won’t listen to criticism about Australian famers not being cutting edge … he says the country’s leading food producers have adopted world’s best practice and that he analyses everything that happens in his operation and is constantly searching for efficiencies and better ways to function.
But he admits the time is coming when farmers will be unable to find more cost-effective ways of operating and at that point he says consumers will have to pay extra for fresh, high-quality Australian-grown food.
He told me about a recent trip to the supermarket where he overheard a couple complaining about the price of potatoes.
Will asked them: ‘Do you know how much it costs to get them to the store?’”
“They said, ‘Yes but if they were imported we’d get them cheaper.’
“Everyone wants to put their hand out for pay rises but no one wants to pay any extra for food. Our costs are going up and our margins are getting smaller.”
Will says the apple industry is facing the threat of cheap Chinese imports. Last season Chinese Pink Lady apples were selling for one-third the price of Australian fruit. Which begs the question – how is it so?
Are Australian consumers content to buy cheap fruit knowing that it may have been grown using cheap labour and chemicals banned from use in Australia? And in doing so supporting an industry which will threaten the future of Australian businesses and jobs? Only time will tell …
Ever wondered what happens to an apple before it reaches your home? Read on to find out.
Earlier this year I interviewed a well-known Australian chef, who is regularly seen on television.
When he discovered I was married to a vegetable farmer we started talking Aussie vegetables. Then the conversation turned to Australian garlic.
He said he couldn’t understand the high prices it sold for and felt it was extortion (my words not his but that was his sentiment).
I’ve had a bit to do with garlic this year. My husband and some fellow growers are working together to build up their garlic seed stock and supply the local market.
Garlic is grown from the cloves. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. The boys and I planted some garlic here at home and have had limited success. Either the tops died or the cloves didn’t fill out. Our resident farmer says we either watered too much or not enough – depending on the ailment. It’s a fiddly business that’s very, very labour intensive. There’s not much mechanisation available which means hand planting and hand harvesting. In the heat. Not. Much. Fun. And more importantly expensive … hence the high retail price.
I’m always banging on about food and where it comes from. Until I met my husband I had no idea how my food was produced and nor did I give it any thought. I just blindly turned up to the supermarket each week and loaded up on my favourites.
It’s not until you become involved in farming that you realise just how much effort is involved in producing a regular supply of high-quality food. Growing it is hard enough but then there’s the costs of production, the transport, the selling, the storing, the packing, the refrigerating and the merchandising … all of which ensures it arrives to customers in great condition.
But in recent times there’s been a worrying trend. Many farmers are packing up, selling out and leaving the industry. Some want a different lifestyle, but for many the financial and personal rewards just aren’t there. Just like the family home, the cost to run a farming operation has skyrocketed in the past few years. Electricity and water prices are out of control, as is insurance. But there’s only so much the consumer is willing to pay for their food, leaving many farmers wondering, ‘why do we bother’? Sure they can break even (in a good year) but why should they settle for that? Like any business, the focus is as much on turning a profit as it is on producing great products.
Many in the industry have been sounding the alarm, warning that if too many farmers leave the land Australia faces a food shortage in the years to come. Already much of the food on sale here is imported and if the Australian farming community continues to shrink we’ll see a great reliance on food imports. Think about how hard it is to find an Australia-made t-shirt now … in the future it could be the same for your fresh food.
Some people may rejoice at this suggestion. Cheap, cheap, cheap they twitter. But surely fresh food shouldn’t just be about price … it should be about freshness. And safety and quality and knowing that in buying locally-produced fresh food you’re supporting and sustaining local businesses and local jobs.
Last weekend the Courier Mail’s Q Weekend Magazine ran a great article by Amanda Watt, looking at our food security. Scenic Rim farmers Robert Hinrichsen and Matt Muller were quoted in the article. Read it here.
Then in the Sunday paper was a story about the cost differences between buying Australian and imported foods. The reporter found that it cost $60 extra to buy all Australian products. Sadly not everyone will see that extra $60 as money well spent.
It made for interesting reading and begs the question – where does the extra money go? How can someone grow rice in Thailand, pick it, pack it and ship it to Australia for a fraction of the cost of the Australian-grown rice? Obviously labour costs in Thailand are well under ours – here in Australia unskilled labourers are paid about $22/hour plus super.
Then there’s the cost of implementing systems, tests and checks to ensure the safety of the food that is sold in Australian shops. Taxes add to the cost, as do inputs … things like electricity, water, fuel, freight and fertiliser … which are rising in price all the time.
The high Australian dollar has also done bad things for Australian farming because it means our produce is too expensive to export and that foreign produce is very cheap to import.
I just hope that ultimately consumers will see the value in buying Australian and understand that by supporting the Australian food industry they are also supporting local jobs and local businesses and most importantly they are buying fresh, safe food that has been produced in line with the highest health and safety standards.
I’m one of those people who can’t think about what she’s eating as she eats it. If someone starts talking about little baby cows as I’m tucking into veal saltimbocca, well that’s the end of dinner. Just can’t eat another mouthful.
It’s a good thing I married a vegetable farmer and not a beef or sheep farmer because we’d be very broke if I had. All those little cows and sheep would have names and I’d be barricading the truck so they couldn’t go off to market.
Stupid I know, but that’s just how I am.
So when I interviewed pig farmer Belinda Marriage from Tillari Trotters I felt I’d met a kindred spirit. Which is kind of funny given that her financial survival relies on selling her pigs for meat.
Belinda admits she sees herself as ‘mum’ to the pigs. She breeds Tamworth Pigs … or Tammies. They’re a rare breed which is distinct because they have dark hair and dark meat. She describes her operation as whole-of-life free-range. That means her pigs are free to roam outside in the paddocks for their entire life, from birth until Belinda drives them off to the abattoir. It’s a drive she admits still fills her with guilt, but it’s also an essential part of the process.
Belinda told me that she feels good knowing that while alive her pigs have a very good life. They run, they play in the mud, they do what pigs should do.
She described the paddock to plate process for me for the Ask a Farmer feature I wrote for last Saturday’s Courier Mail.
Mating: All our matings are natural. Gestation is three months, three weeks and three days, give or take. We breed around the year but we’re trying not to farrow so much in winter because it’s cold.
Farrowing: Our girls farrow out in the paddock. They have some shelter in there but some just have their piglets under a tree. It’s not the best scenario. Our pigs have litters between four and 14 piglets, but the average is 8 to 10. Tamworth Pigs have fairly small litters compared to other breeds.
Instincts: Tamworth pigs have incredible mothering instincts. She will build a nest to have a baby in. If there’s a predator nearby all the pigs come running.
Weaning: Generally we let the other wean her own babies around three months. If the mum gets skinny we take the babies out. Some of the mums quickly go and find a boar and mate again, others we rest.
Fattening: Our pigs are free to roam their paddocks for their entire life. We like to get our bacons up to about 70 to 80kg before we take them to the abattoir. Because they are running around it does take them longer to fatten up.
Eating: The quality of our pork is really good. I put it down to the breed and the genetics, as well as the stress-free life. What they eat also has a part to play.
Belinda sells her meat through online sales and through Farmer’s Markets. Find out more at www.tamworthpigs.com.au