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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

Go to: Early family history | Involvement with the Catholic Church | History from the 1950s | Dairying | Frank’s education | The history of the Bridge and naming of Boyle Road | Changes in the local area from the 1970s | Frank and Andrea meet | Moving out of dairying | Farmers’ markets | Rice | Raising awareness of food production | The future and the food movement | Farm forestry | Work ethic | The House

Moving out of dairying

Frank: I suppose it was really down to dad to go into beef cattle because I wasn’t very keen about milking, dairying, I said I didn’t really want to be a dairy farmer. He made the decision but it was because I probably wasn’t wanting to be a dairy farmer.

Andrea: But there was no big clearing sale. We were talking about this with your brother the other day. “You know right this is the end of that enterprise let’s”… so everything just kind of decayed all these machines were still there, a whole year later all cob webbed and it was just this sad, I don’t know it was really funny wasn’t it, looking back.

Do you think it was a hard decision for your dad?

Frank: It was, it was very difficult. He was a bit better by then. I suppose tradition, he probably felt a  lot of pressure from family tradition. We’d been dairying for all these years and he was going to be the one to sort of say no it’s not going to happen anymore. I suppose you look back on stuff. They’ve probably never been a family that looks ahead and sort of makes a clear decision. Like I said we’re not that good at talking about the tough things. And dad might have had it in his mind that he was going to go back into it some-day; he didn’t sell it all because he might want to become a dairy farmer again. Don’t know, but you know… Hanging on.

We’ve still got beef cattle, that’s what dad has now. But we also still had pigs at the time. The pigs were still happening. We had sort of a 100-sow piggery. But that was really dad’s enterprise I didn’t want to have anything to do with that either. Because I was looking for something different. We had beef, beef cattle and that wasn’t enough of an income. I was sort of working off farm a little bit as a builder’s labourer, and that’s when we started to look at pecans. It would have been about the ’90s, early ‘90s.

I could see there wasn’t going to be enough income from beef cattle for the farm and we needed something a bit more, you know, bit more diverse and a little bit different, something different. And because we frost here I wanted something that that we didn’t have to plant every year. I’d been growing zucchinis and beans and so I didn’t want that sort of small crop thing where you had to plant every year so I was looking at macadamias.

Andrea: We tried camomile didn’t we?

Frank: Camomile, we did herbs. I think we tried a lot of things and then pecans seemed to sort of come, we put in about 25 trees to start with and they grew well. I think we decided we’ll put a few macadamias in, but that didn’t happen, the neighbours cows got in and sort of ate them Because we frost here we can’t have a lot of the macadamias, that’s when the macadamia industry was really starting to happen. You know a lot of people were putting maccas in and, we tried it but, it just, we didn’t have enough land really, frost free land.

Were you getting any advice from anybody?

Frank: A little bit from the Department of Agriculture. That’s about all, there wasn’t, there wasn’t a lot of advice available. I’d search out other people who were growing pecans, and we put a few pecans in and they grew well so we put more in and more in.

So at that stage you had the house and had you sort of worked out what part of the land you could make decisions and pursue something on with your dad?

Frank: At that time we didn’t, it all sort of blurs into exactly how it happened, but once we started to plant the pecans. This block here the house is on that was the first thing we did, we sort of got in and subdivided off so that we weren’t putting in money and time into something we didn’t own. That was a really important thing and then, and then I was working as a partnership with dad with the pigs, for quite a while.

Andrea: When Emily and Jessica were born. And you got out of the pigs then… [pause]. You, I think, didn’t you get out of them when your dad kept going for a bit?

Frank: But then I came back in but then I was also trying to do the pecans.

Andrea: Oh yeah it was too because I remember, it was on one of our anniversaries, I remember driving up to Binna Burra and we were talking about the pigs.

Frank: Yeah that’s right. Tenth anniversary (1999). I was working as a partnership with dad with the pigs, and again it just wasn’t happening. And we just weren’t making enough money out of it, we were just going round and round in circles. And the pecans were sort of happening and I was putting more and more in and dad didn’t want to know about the pecans because they were too long term. He sort of couldn’t see a future in them.

Andrea: Well he thought it was wasted time.

Frank: And at that point Andrea and I said, “you know, we’ve got to do something here”. And because it’s such a big family farm we um’ed and ah’ed about it, one way or another tried to do, you know family trusts or, how to work out the inheritance and all this sort of thing. But it really boiled down to the end that the only way we could do it properly was to buy, buy the farm. Go and borrow the money from the bank and buy it. Because it was, everything was too grey and we were starting to do a lot of work on the farm and putting on this farm that we didn’t own. It was a hard thing, in 2000 it happened we sort of decided we really have to do something here. So that’s when we split 300 acres off. And yeah that’s this side of the farm.

Dad was ok with it. It helped them get out of a bit of debt. He could see that I was young and what I was doing he wasn’t interested in. He was quite happy cause it would still remain in the family I think.

And you had children at that stage?

Andrea: Yeah we had kids.

Frank: We’d had, it had actually proven that we were going to stay here, you know. Whereas you know ten years earlier, this pommy bird that I had brought, you know met travelling [laughs] is she just going to take off, you know. At that stage, we’d had proved ourselves that we were in it for the long term.

So you started doing pecans and who were you selling them to? And you were just selling the nuts then?

Frank: Well the trouble with pecans is they’re really long term. Now we had about 200 trees in our first block and it was a great day the day that we got three nuts.

Andrea: Yeah, I remember celebrating and then a day when we got a bucket, cause we picked them with the girls and we had a party. And the day when you were on the top of the tractor and we got photos of the three girls with buckets on their heads and nuts raining down, you know. We could pick it by hand then, we all had little buckets and go round each tree and now it’s obviously changed. It’s mechanical.

Frank: Then when we started to get a reasonable amount and there was only one company to sell to and they sort of, they could dictate the price…. Starmans.

Andrea: Up at Toowoomba.

Frank: I suppose this is looking back now but, from history I’d seen that as farmers we have never made a great lot of money out of the product we produced. The only people that made money out of what we slaved to produce were the middlemen. People like wholesalers and the retailers. And I could see that happening with the pecans. It was happening with the beef cattle. You know, we’d get a dollar a kilo for our beef and by the time it got to the shops it was twenty dollars and kilo.

Andrea: And it would be a dollar one week and three dollars the next depending on what buyers would be at the auction. So even though it’s the same quality, the same size carcass, the same, it was just incredible. It was so fluctuating wasn’t it?

And it still is. Whereas with the pecans we can control, we have one price, you know.

Frank: So we sort of started to look into producing, well basically value adding our product. Rather than just selling it as a nut in shell at the farm gate and sort of taking a small price for it we could sell it. So we investigated, we asked questions and talked. There was an old guy out at Nashua who’d been in pecans for sort of a long time.

Andrea: Doug Flaherty. He was a client of mine. He used to book his flights to Texas. He knew me really well. He was quiet thrilled wasn’t he?

Frank: He was and he was an older man and he had some of the gear that we required to process the nuts. So we brought some of the gear off him. And I suppose our life’s been like this, sort of gone from one thing to the other and without a great lot of planning. There’s a little bit more planning now, then we used to.

And so you’ve got pecan paste, and the muesli? And…

Andrea: Rice flour.

Frank: So I suppose we started with the pecans.

Andrea: We sell the pieces to the bakeries.

Frank: And we set up our little plant. We thought we’d buy one machine we’d put the pecans in one and they’d come out the like that at the other end. But that was not the case, we needed three or four different machines and elevators and anyway, I built all this stuff and put it all together.

Andrea: We didn’t buy it new. Frank’s amazing he does everything, is just so good with…

Frank: Putting stuff together. Anyway so we ended up with, we were able to process our nuts and get it to a point, you know to a saleable point. But at that point we didn’t really know where they would be sold, we started to sell to Fundamental Foods and Santos, all the wholesalers. But again, you know, at a wholesale price.

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