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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.

It contains reflections on Land History | Markets | Profitability | Climate and the needs of the fruit vs the big markets | Ecosystems: soil and bush regeneration | Succession

Succession

Geraldine: Well, in terms of planting numbers, the Tweed has had an increase in planting numbers, as opposed to Coffs Harbour, which is stagnant, which I think is an interesting indication. It can be that in some instances patches might have been taken out through Panama or Bunchy Top and they’ve had to replant, so there’s permits issued for that sort of thing.

I am noticing an instance where there is a bit of a generational shift as well, and I think one of the things we haven’t addressed very well in farming in general is succession planning, and there are some stories around at the moment about the conflict of the value of the land and the unlikely event of young people coming into farming for that reason.

From my observations in the banana industry, without trying to be too sort of Pollyanna-ish about it, I do look to those positive planting numbers and think, well, there is still an aspect of growth in the industry – and also the fact that we are on the doorstep of the Gold Coast and Brisbane, so we’ve got a ready market there that’s quite accessible, very accessible – new highway, you know, a four-lane highway into Brisbane, that makes it a lot easier than it was 15 years ago.

Lance: Yes, real estate values are a huge thing with farming, because we’re talking about it at our local Farmers’ Market, because you can see by the grey hair, and it is so difficult if not impossible for lots of young people to get involved in agriculture, just because of the cost of the land. So much of our best soils are having houses built on them. Take the Alstonville Plateau as a classic case. That is probably one of the best pieces of soil anywhere.

Geraldine: Which also lost a substantial research station.

Lance: Yes, well, that’s another indication. I think it was just the – well, one big part of the fact that it was sold was just the real estate value.

Geraldine: Which substantially fluffed up the State Government coffers.

Lance: Yes, they sold it off; and conversely, the value of primary industry, tropical fruit production, in their eyes – is that an over-statement?

Geraldine: Well, I guess you have to look at what’s going on currently in terms of the wind-back in numbers of the DPI, and Coffs Harbour no longer has a specified Banana Inspector, the reason being that the State Government has said, ‘Well, 95% of production is in North Queensland, we’ll give it over to Queensland to run it’ – so Coffs Harbour no longer has a designated inspector for bananas, and consequently no-one collecting data or being able to feed information to growers in their specific area.

The conditions are quite different down here to what they are in Far North Queensland, so the numbers of employees in the DPI has drastically diminished, which again is possibly an indication of whether the State Government sees any value in primary production, particularly in small scale areas.

Geraldine: Can I just go back to what I think was the initial question about the future of the industry, because I’d like to bring Georgia in on this—-

Given that she has shown a keen interest over the years in working with her Dad on the farm, and I’ve watched the two of them work very well together, and I guess this is where the succession planning comes in, and there is a generational thing that happens in farming quite traditionally, and it’s just interesting, I think, that Georgia has such a good overview of life on a farm, but also as a small business person, and I think this is invaluable in the training that farming practices provide for families.

I think, again, that’s an under-valued element. My two children have both done Farmers’ Markets. They’ve got very good customer relations, they can handle cash, and basically add the till at the end of the day, so these are things that the children are learning whilst they are involved in the farming. I think we under-value that as well.

So, yes, over to Georgia, in terms of the fact that you actually went away and did a year of study, then you’ve come back, but in relation to how you help your Dad, with the kind of assistance that you give, helping with the Markets and the banking – just a bit of an overview of what you’ve been doing on the farm with your Dad?

Georgia: I mean, I don’t do a lot of physical stuff, because I – I don’t want to say I’m a girl, but I’m not as strong as my brother and he does a lot of the brush-cutting and helping Dad out with that stuff but, like, I know, well, Dad always used to say when I was little and doing the Markets, it’s a real, like, building your confidence up, and being able to handle the change and things like that, I think that helps my Maths at school, just doing that.

What you were saying before about, like the mental side for Dad, I notice that when he goes to the Markets he’s just so happy talking to people, and it’s a real community atmosphere, the Markets. Like, you go and talk to all the farmers and it’s just another group of friends, kind of. Yes, I mean, I enjoy doing it and I think it’s, you know, a good industry, and I think it just needs more help from the Government, like, it is obviously struggling. I know I always thought that I could go into politics – that’s what I wanted to do – and see if I could help somehow, but, yeah.

Geraldine: Well, you’re only young. You’ve plenty of time to work on that.

But if there was that support, and if there was the potential to support yourself from the farm and then to continue that on, knowing what you know about how it works, and obviously you’ve been around, you’ve watched your Dad, is it something you’d want to do, do you think?

Georgia: Yes, I think I would, with help, like, if I had a husband and, like,  when I get older, obviously, I think it would be a good thing, like, yeah,  I’d be very much interested, not so much in doing the physical work myself, like, my Mum when she was there, she did a lot of it. I see her these days and she’s got a lot of back injuries and all that kind of stuff, but, you know, I could easily do the stuff in the vegetable gardens, and you’d have a man – I’m not being anti-feminism, but a man doing the hard stuff in the bananas, carrying the heavy things. Yes, I’d definitely be interested. It’s just a matter of expanding, you know.

And do you think wages are an inhibitor, like, to actually employing people to come and work on your farm?

Georgia: Yes.

Penalty rates and all that sort of stuff?

Georgia: Yes, but we have two workers on our farm and, like, my brother, he’s doing an internship, and we have another woman who does the brush-cutting for us every once in a while, and we don’t have any of that so it’s a lot easier. Like, we’re just paying them for brush-cutting, say,  $25 or $20 an hour, but it would be obviously, if you brought in a structured system of paying people, it would be a lot harder. That’s just what you have to do if you want to make it big.

It’s like that thing we’ve been talking about lately – you either have to keep it small, or you have to really expand; otherwise, it’s not profitable.

Lance: And diversify.

Georgia: Yes, and diversify.

Diversify in terms of what you produce?

Georgia: Yes.

Lance: Yes, just to grow as much so that you’ve got different varieties of fruit that you can put on the stall all the year round, like, we’ve went and bought black sapotes and canistels, yellow sapotes, and they’re all different varieties of fruit that come in at different times of the year.

Georgia: Yes, people ask me for avocados and they don’t understand—-

Lance: They’re imported from somewhere around the World, so they forget about the seasonality of fresh fruit and vegetables. I mean, like, with broccoli, you know, you can only produce it at a certain time of the year.

But there again, because we just keep picking the plants, just pick the side shoots – last year the plants lasted for six months, same plants, so they just keep putting up little heads, little florets, and you just pick them with a stem about that long, put them in a bag. People just go crazy over them because it’s fresh, picked the afternoon before. It’s very labour-intensive and, once again, if you looked at it purely from an economic point of view you wouldn’t do it, but the customers just go crazy over it, being able to buy that sort of thing and it’s certified organic, so there’s no pesticides.

I mean, I’m not sure I’ve got the full knowledge of the situation, but I think that this area sort of in microcosm is a hotbed of alternate sort of people that have a sort of raised awareness of environmental issues and all that sort of stuff, and they’re looking for certified produce if they can get it.

 

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