Outback wool stories to be spun through AWN design comp

The provenance of South Australian wool will be celebrated through a public design competition launched by the Australian Wool Network (AWN).

AWN is encouraging South Australians with a strong connection to wool growing in the Flinders Ranges and Outback to help shine a spotlight on the industry, its farmers and the quality of locally grown merino wool through the DNA Design Series competition.

People with a strong connection to woolgrowing in the Flinders Ranges and Outback can submit their design idea in hope of it featuring in a high quality Australian merino wool homewares item, such as a blanket. The Limestone Coast and Eyre Peninsula will be included in the DNA Design Series in coming weeks.

Last year, Barossa abstract artist Marnie Gilder teamed up with the AWN to launch a pair of fine merino wool blankets showcasing the Barossa Valley’s wool producers. Following the success of this project, the new national DNA Design Series competition was developed in aim of further showcasing wool growing regions.

A merino wool blanket from Marine Gilder’s ‘Only Merino Barossa’ collection launched in 2018.

AWN DNA program manager Cynthia Jarratt says the competition is part of the organisation’s Direct Network Advantage (DNA) provenance campaign, which enables consumers to understand where wool products come from.

“Our DNA program benefits consumers, who more and more want to know where the fibres they wear and use come from and our wool growers who are just as keen to understand what becomes of the wool they grow,” she says.

“Just like the paddock to plate concept in the hospitality industry, our DNA campaign tracks the wool to its source here in SA in an exciting and innovative way.”

Owners of the DNA fabrics can use their mobile phone to scan a QR swing tag on the woollen product to view information, stories and videos that showcase the region and its wool growers.

Sheep yards from above at Mt Eba Station in outback SA. Photo by Margie Whittlesea.

“We have some of the world’s most desirable merino wool being grown here in SA in some of Australia’s most beautiful country and our DNA program provides a great opportunity to showcase this to not only our Australian customers, but to the many international tourists who purchase our wool products,” Cynthia says.

The chosen wool designs will be sold at selected retail outlets and at Merino and Co – an Australian merino wool clothing store.

Winners will receive $1000 and $500 worth of the final product featuring their design. The Flinders/Outback winner will also receive $1000 donated by SA woolgrowers Tony and Julie Smith of Rawnsley Park Station and MF Jebsen Australia of Martins Well Rangeland Reserve, both of the Flinders Ranges.

Click here for more information and to enter.

Feature image is Andrew Smart of Wilkatana Station at Port Augusta with lamb diva, Ellie May.

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Adelaide-based SEAPA excelling in international markets

Existing outside the oyster industry has enabled Adelaide-based plastics fabrication company SEAPA to forge radical ideas that have revolutionised oyster farming systems and built a globally influential business.

The popularity of its innovative oyster harvesting baskets has seen SEAPA take out the Agribusiness Award and Australian Exporter of the Year Award at the 2018 Australian Export Awards in Canberra.

This underlines the company’s spiralling success, building on its 2018 Business SA Export Agribusiness Award for outstanding international success in the field of agricultural products.

“Our background is in plastics injection moulding – not oyster farming – so our strength has been forming close partnerships with primary producers and coming up with innovative solutions to their problems,” says Andy Will, SEAPA group general manager.

“The ability to adapt rather than impose our products on customers has made them more beneficial to specific needs.”

SEAPA group general manager Andy Will, left, accepts the Export Agribusiness Award from Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Simon Birmingham.

Oyster farmers around the world have embraced SEAPA’s long, plastic mesh baskets that are laid horizontally in the water from adjustable long lines, which enables shifting ocean tides to rumble the oysters inside the baskets.

This marks a significant departure from the older fixed rack and rail system, involving growing oysters on fixed trays along submerged wooden rails.

SEAPA’s horizontal basket system provides the flexibility for farmers to adjust the height of baskets to accommodate tidal movements, encouraging more rapid growth and development of well-cupped oysters with a clean hard shell and high meat content.

“All of our customers want the same outcomes – higher quality oysters, produced with greater efficiency,” says Andy.

“They want a farming system flexible enough to react to different seasons and environmental conditions, so that’s what we have worked closely with them to design and manufacture.”

For this system and these radical ideas to enjoy success beyond South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, where they have been trialed and successfully implemented, it has been necessary for SEAPA to be patient and strategic.

The oyster harvesting baskets in action.

Many countries that have employed the same oyster harvesting systems for centuries are wary of implementing change; France is very dogmatic about continuing traditional methods, Japan even more so.

“None of this happens overnight,” says Andy. “We have been in the US since the early 2000s, and more than a decade in France.”

“We have to make sure that the initial systems that we introduce into these countries are operating with optimal success in their farms, and we want their neighbours to notice that our systems involve a lot less labour and more impressive yields, because we know they need to see something in action before they believe it works.”

Since 2001, SEAPA has been exporting its range of products manufactured in Adelaide, with 75% of SEAPA’s revenue in the previous financial year coming from international markets.

Asia has emerged as a key buyer of SEAPA products, with significant sales progress in China, Japan and Korea stemming from the recent removal of prohibitive tariffs.

Continued growth in these markets represents a significant prize; while 13,000 tonnes of oysters are produced annually in Australia, 2.2 million tonnes are produced in China each year, and SEAPA’s footprint there is currently small but with the potential for rapid growth.

Technical innovation has been a pillar of SEAPA’s success, with its large range of 60 products allowing its oyster harvesting system to be used in almost any farming environment.

SEAPA group general manager Andy Will, left, managing director Garry Thompson and group sales manager Alex Jack.

SEAPA’s technological innovation is led by the design and manufacturing teams at its parent company, Adelaide plastic injection moulder Garon Plastics, which uses advanced design tools and 3D printing to rapidly develop and deploy new ideas for testing and refinement, giving farmers the tools they need, when they need them.

Being based in Adelaide has several advantages for SEAPA, from its established and progressive manufacturing plant, to performing extensive research and development through working closely with SA’s league of oyster farmers.

“We see the farmers that use our products as our partners in the design of the system. We wouldn’t be able to develop the products without their input,” Andy says.

However, having its head office and manufacturing plant located a long way from international markets means that SEAPA has needed to be nimble and strategic in forging its global sales network across 20 countries, benefitting from establishing local offices in its target markets across North Asia, Europe, and North America.

While SEAPA has already enjoyed a strong performance in the current financial year, Andy can see that global oyster eating trends are changing, with a rise in premium oyster bars in the US and Asia meaning that demand for excellent oysters in shell will increase, and therefore provide increased opportunities for the introduction of more of SEAPA’s innovative oyster basket systems.

“There is great success that we have enjoyed through the first 20 years of this company, but greater opportunities now lay ahead,” says Andy, “and we have to remain innovative and agile to make sure we can reap the benefits.”

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Eat more pork and help save our bacon

‘Get some pork on your fork’ is the famous line second-generation pig farmer Andrew Johnson needs South Aussie shoppers to hear now more than ever.

The owner of Mt Boothby Pastoral Company is standing in the middle of the stall-free, straw-based growing shelter, his livelihood snuffling at his boots.

At the centre of his 18,000-acre mixed farm enterprise in the small Murray Mallee service town of Tintinara, 40km from Keith, is a 1000 sow, farrow to finish operation, one of the state’s larger piggeries.

Andrew has spent most of his working life in Tintinara, his father establishing the piggery in the late 1970s as a way to diversify farm operations.

“I always knew I was going to be a farmer and pigs have always been a key part of what I love doing,” says Andrew, Brand South Australia’s latest I Choose SA ambassador.

“They’re very intelligent animals and they’re very efficient, I have a lot of curiosity for them.”

Intelligent, yes. But SA pork quite literally brings home the bacon.

The state’s pork industry contributes $385 million to the SA economy, supporting almost 2500 full time local jobs and providing $188 million in household incomes for local families.

This is according to figures released earlier this year by Australian Pork Limited which also acknowledges that the pig production sector is more important in SA than in any other state.

Tintinara pig farmer and I Choose SA ambassador Andrew Johnson. Photo by James Knowler/JKTP.

Despite its prevalence to the local economy, the pork industry is currently stuck in a glut due to a downturn in prices, an oversupply of meat and increased feed grain prices.

Andrew believes the oversupply issues have been brought about by the industry becoming a victim of its own success, as pig producers nationwide undertook significant farm investments and some expansions, shooting up productivity.

“The pricing is depressed at the moment and it has been because of some oversupply issues,” Andrew says.

“Prior to now, we were in pretty good times and through these better times producers were investing in their infrastructure, making improvements and are now achieving better productivity out of their piggeries.”

To counteract the industry-wide struggles, the pork industry is committed to backing its own, with a number of initiatives rolling out to secure the wellbeing of farmers and their families.

Pork SA chair Mark McLean explained at a recent Brand South Australia agribusiness event how charity campaigns, farm support services, and choose local pushes were among efforts to help the industry bounce back.

“We are experiencing a downturn at the moment, there is no doubt about that. But the opportunity is what do you do, how do you respond?” he says.

“The first priority we identified was to support our people, to support our farmers, to help producers make decisions as early as possible by funding well-being counsellors and providing pork industry specialist support to rural financial counsellors.”

In addition, Pork SA’s charity campaign involves donations of pork products to Catherine House in Adelaide, Foodbank and The Hutt Street Centre. The initiative not only helps those less fortunate but further spreads the important message about the need for households to consume more locally grown pork.

South Aussie shoppers will also play a part in giving the industry a leg-up, as households are urged to not only choose Australian pork, but eat more of it.

Andrew Johnson’s sons Will, 10, and Eddie, 11, on the farm at Tintinara. Photo by James Knowler/JKTP.

Consumers should look for the bright pink Australian Pork logo on packaging to ensure the product is grown by Aussie pig farmers.

Mark encourages shoppers to also keep an eye out for country of origin labelling and only purchase pork products made from 90% or more Australian ingredients.

“If it doesn’t have more than 90% on that barcode, it’s probably not Australian, it’s probably the saline, the water, it might even be the packaging.”

Back on the farm at Tintinara, Andrew Johnson echoes the same sentiments.

Consumers backing Aussie pork means that not only will his two young sons have a solid chance at taking over the family farm in coming decades, but it also means something for the 15 full time team members currently employed by the business.

“Our business is very important locally, it’s one of the major employers along with Thomas Foods International feedlot up the road,” Andrew says.

“The economic impact per sow is about $3000 back into the community, so that gives you an idea about what impact it has. The pig industry is incredibly important in our regions.”

But like all Aussie farmers, pork producers are resilient and Andrew is quick to point out the many strengths of the industry.

“The pig industry has always been very forward and I’m very proud of it. About eight years ago we decided voluntarily as an industry to phase out the use of sow stalls and that was a first in the world,” he says.

“Over 90% of our industry is quality assured to ensure food safety, welfare and environmental regulations are adhered to.”

Andrew also speaks highly of the industry’s forward-thinking approaches to genetic improvements and bio energy production.

In 2004 he took research into his own hands when he won a Nuffield Scholarship to study sow welfare, disease management, electronic identification and sow housing. He subsequently became chairman of Nuffield Australia and a director of Nuffield International, having completed both roles recently.

Tintinara pig farmer Andrew Johnson urges shoppers to choose Australian grown pork products. Photo by James Knowler/JKTP.

Other strengths of the state’s pork industry includes our processing facilities. Every week about 22,000 ‘baconer’ pigs are sent to either JBS at Port Wakefield or Big River Pork at Murray Bridge, two of the nation’s largest pork abattoirs. The majority of Australian pork is sold to the domestic market, with some entering Singapore and New Zealand.

Despite the challenges, Andrew is confident about the future of SA’s pig industry and the state’s agriculture sector as a whole.

He says employment opportunities are in abundance in most regional towns, but admits the next challenge is encouraging more people to choose to live and work in country areas.

As a keen supporter of the rural town’s sporting clubs, he says Tintinara and its humble population of 527 will always be home.

“I love livestock and animals, country areas and the people in them, I love my community,” Andrew says.

“I couldn’t see myself anywhere else, it’s a great place to be.”

Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Like this story? Nominate a story from your region.
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UK exchange employee to learn from South Australian agriculture

One of South Australia’s leading regional grain marketers and agribusiness consultancies is helping local farmers to better manage seasonal challenges by introducing an international insight into the business.

Rural Directions based in Clare in the state’s Mid North has begun an international exchange program, welcoming 26-year-old consultant George Lane all the way from Leicestershire, England.

George, who works for the UK-based Brown & Co, has arrived in SA for four weeks to work with Rural Directions across the state’s prime cropping and grazing regions.

Rural Directions has been around since 1997 in aim of helping local farmers adapt to technology, implement advanced management systems, and give advice and analysis on particular situations or opportunities.

Their work includes liaising with farm businesses to increase income and reduce costs, save time, make sound investment decisions, give independent agronomic advice, and to help advance industry development.

Brown & Co UK employee George Lane, left, with Rural Directions managing director David Heinjus.

Rural Directions operations manager Brenton Greenslade says the employee exchange, a first between the Clare business and Brown & Co, will be reciprocated in 2019 when a Rural Directions employee travels to the UK.

“It’s an opportunity for our employees to gain an outside view on how things are done and then be able to bring it back and apply it for the benefit of our clients here in Australia,” he says.

Delivering a different perspective and learning how local farmers are dealing with current drought conditions are just a couple of outcomes expected by George.

“I’m really hoping to see another perspective to how people approach and deal with agricultural businesses, along with how they deal with the challenges which they face such as drought,” he says.

“I have experience in a lot of similar areas that Rural Directions specialises in, hopefully I can bring something new to the table or even spark new thoughts and ideas.”

Rural Directions employees Carlyn Sherrif and Natasha Searle.

Rural Directions also has offices in Freeling in the Lower Light, Loxton in the Riverland and Naracoorte in the South East, as well as an office in Dubbo, New South Wales.

Agribusiness consultant Patrick Redden says Rural Directions delivers advice for about 10% of the state’s crop.

“Rural Directions exists to add value to our clients, who are individual family farming businesses, those within the corporate ag sector, and industry groups like Grains Research and Development Corporation, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation and Dairy Australia,” he says.

“It’s about helping families to grow and develop their business to increase profitability and sustainability, while identifying opportunities for the future.”

Much of Rural Directions’ current work involves helping growers through current climate challenges, such as drought and frosts.

Rural Directions’ Simon Voigt. The business also consults with livestock farmers as well as crop and pastoral farmers.

Some parts of Australia are in the grip of a drought or are affected by it, creating less than average production and bringing drought-related stress to farmers and their families.

Patrick says Rural Directions helps keep mindsets positive and helps clients to focus on factors within their control.

“We can be a sounding board with independent views on these stressful decisions such as do they leave a crop for grain or cut it for hay?

“When we work with a business and support the client, we are helping to remove the emotion from it and having a clear-headed approach.”

With 23 employees based across Rural Directions’ five offices, Patrick says there is potential for further growth in the business, with two new graduate employees starting soon.

Header photo features Rural Directions employees Brendan Wallis, Brenton Greenslade and Tony Craddock.

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Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Young, driven and ready for a career in agribusiness

At 22 years of age, Elizabeth Ward spends most of her working week among grape vines and under almond trees in one of South Australia’s picturesque food and wine regions, McLaren Vale.

Brand South Australia’s latest I Choose SA ambassador is in her final year of an agricultural science degree at the University of Adelaide and has scored an internship with independent agricultural consultancy DJ’s Growers, where she is learning about the world of agronomy.

Elizabeth has few doubts about her future and securing full-time work in SA’s agribusiness industry, with her university course’s webpage stating “there are five jobs for every one graduate”.

“One of the key selling points for students looking at studying ag science is the opportunity for graduates,” she says.

“I think people are pretty confident that there are jobs out there, and I’ve found from speaking to people in the industry that there are jobs to be filled.

“So I think SA is really cool in that there are many jobs in agriculture.”

Working for three days a week for DJ’s Growers in vineyards across McLaren Vale, the soon-to-be university graduate has already got her foot in the door of the state’s agribusiness sector.

I Choose SA for Agribusiness ambassador Elizabeth Ward is undertaking a paid internship at local agronomy consultancy DJ’s Growers. Photo by James Knowler/JKTP.

The business’s consultants and agronomists are in charge of regularly monitoring vines and crops, providing technical advice to producers of winegrapes, orchard fruits, potatoes, horticulture crops, pasture and broad-acre crops.

Agronomists help detect pests and diseases before suggesting and monitoring appropriate controls to help reduce economic damage to crops. They also monitor soil quality and salinity, and give advice on the right tools to improve produce quality.

Elizabeth is one of three internship participants currently monitoring vine health in large-scale and boutique vineyards prior to the harvest season in early 2019.

“We use an app called Agworld Scout to record and monitor the growth stage of the vines, then we report back to our agronomist, who reports back to the grower, who can then decide on the management of their crop,” she says.

“It’s wonderful working outside, I love it. McLaren Vale a great spot to work and I really enjoy working with such beautiful crops as well.

“The growth of them is so quick. In the past six weeks we’ve seen them go from being pretty much bare to really gorgeous canopies.”

DJ’s Growers intern and I Choose SA ambassador Elizabeth Ward monitors vine and crop health in preparation for harvest. Photo by James Knowler/JKTP.

Elizabeth’s curiosity about the world of food production and a passion for the state’s abundance of high-quality produce was all it took to spark a desire to pursue a career in agribusiness.

Studying for three years between the University of Adelaide’s North Terrace, Waite and Roseworthy campuses, she says her studies have exposed her to crop, livestock and soil sciences, biology, biochemistry, genetics, and soil and animal health.

Students also access the latest research and technology and build practical skills through a number of work experience opportunities, with 91% of the university’s ag science graduates finding full-time employment within months of finishing their degree.

Elizabeth also spent a semester on an agricultural science exchange at the University of Guelph in Canada.

Viticultural agronomist Joe Siebert completed the agronomist internship in 2016 before transitioning into a full-time role at DJ’s Growers.

Servicing soil moisture monitoring equipment installed in 200 vineyards across Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, and Barossa Valley, he also provides technical support and knowledge for winegrape growers.

Joe’s work involves regular monitoring of vineyards for pests and diseases, assessing the quality of the vine and crop, and advising on the appropriate use of fungicides, insecticides and herbicides when needed.

Photo: PIRSA.

DJ’s Growers takes pride in its Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, which involves more environmentally sensitive methods for controlling pests, rather than the use of chemicals and insecticides.

An example of IPM is the use and fostering of ‘beneficial insects’ released into strawberry crops or hot-house environments to control unwanted insects.

Joe also provides services on mapping, canopy measurements, soil and plant nutrition, irrigation water quality and irrigation advice.

He says DJ’s Growers is an independent and unbiased agronomy business that places paramount importance on the needs of local growers and their crops.

“Our primary focus is to provide good technical advice that improves crops and returns to the grower. We try and look at it from the perspective of ‘how can we make sure they are still doing business in 10 years’ time?’

“We are very much tailored to every grower’s needs.”

DJ’s Growers is currently supporting more than 100 producers growing a number of crops including winegrapes, potatoes, strawberries, cherries, almonds, olives, onions, garlic, broad-acre crops and salad greens, just to name a few.

DJ’s also stocks its own line of organic and conventional fertilisers designed for local conditions to combat problems such as low yields and build ups of high soil salinity.

Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Farmers’ unique investment grows SA grain industry

Grain farmers are growing increasingly resilient in South Australia as they continue to plough their own funds into cutting edge research, says industry chief Caroline Rhodes.

Caroline, who took over the reins at Grain Producers SA earlier this year as the organisation’s first female CEO, says local farmers have led the way nationally in investing in their own futures.

Each grain farmer voluntarily pays 30 cents for every tonne of grain sold into the SA Grain Industry Trust (SAGIT) and, as they face a challenging season, the 25 years of corresponding research is paying dividends.

“Grain producers see research as being critical to increasing productivity, reducing risk and unlocking investment in agriculture, and, through SAGIT, they are prioritising their own research needs,” says Caroline, who previously was a trustee of the fund.

“No other state has a research fund supported by growers for state-based, grains industry research. SA is the envy of other states.”

In the past year, $1.8 million in trust funding has supported 25 different grains industry research projects to benefit SA farmers.

Caroline says this work has triggered vast improvements in farming techniques and was now helping farmers better manage seasonal rainfall conditions.

Photo: PIRSA.

“It’s a combination of plant breeding targeting varieties that have a higher drought tolerance, but the biggest change and help by far has been the widespread adoption of no-till farming,” she says.

No-till farming sees producers aim to create little disturbance to soil in growing or harvesting crops, with stubble from previous years creating valuable organic matter to enrich soil and improve moisture conservation.

There are currently about 4,500 grain farms in SA with Primary Industries and Regions SA statistics showing they contribute about $5.3 billion to gross food revenue in the state. Their average grain harvest is about seven million tonnes annually.

Despite this year’s lower rainfall seeing lower tonnage forecasts, Caroline believes farmers are increasingly better equipped to manage drought years through sustainable farming practices.

“While this season may be challenging, there still remains an underlying optimism about the future of the industry and its growth potential,” she says.

“If you look at the longer term, we have seen record shipments from SA as yields continued to improve. While there may be disruption to exports this year, our farmers are resilient.

“SA grain has a fantastic reputation for quality and it means our product is in high demand offshore to feed a growing world population.”

Photo: PIRSA.

About 85% of wheat, barley, canola, oats, lentils, peas, beans, lupins and chickpeas grown over about four million hectares, is exported.

Since taking over the role at Grain Producers SA, Caroline has overseen the organisation moving its headquarters from Mt Barker in the Adelaide Hills to Flinders Street in the city.

There also has been a rebrand to “better reflect a new direction for GPSA as being a modern, progressive and professional representation body”.

Caroline has overseen the creation of a five-point working plan to steer the industry organisation’s future as the voice of SA growers.

This focuses on improving infrastructure, trade and market access, research and development, creating a stronger workforce and balancing agriculture with competing land use needs.

Caroline believes her appointment as CEO, along with the organisation having two other high profile women on its board, was about “leading by example and reflecting how many women are working in the industry”.

Grain Producers SA CEO Caroline Rhodes joins PIRSA CEO Scott Ashby, left, Pork SA chairman Mark McLean, Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone, and Primary Producers SA executive chairman Rob Kerin at Brand South Australia’s recent agribusiness industry briefing.

Independent board director Professor Wendy Umberger is the University of Adelaide’s Professor of Agricultural Economics and Food Policy and executive director of its Centre for Global Food and Resources, focusing on economic issues affecting global food and agricultural value chains.

While more a recently appointed board member – grain, hay and sheep farmer Tanja Morgan – also works as a project manager for Mallee Sustainable Farming.

Caroline says the industry is well backed by global leaders in grains research at the Waite Institute and the new $3.7 million Clare Research Centre with its focus on legume crops.

It also offers enormous economic and work opportunities.

“The grains industry is an engine room for the local economy. At harvest time, the storage and handling workforce alone sees more than 1500 casual jobs being created statewide,” Caroline says.

“We have a broad range of jobs on offer and it’s a matter of encouraging people to consider agriculture as a career option because it’s a growth industry in SA.”

Header image: Grain Producers SA.

Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Rural women at the forefront of resilient and sustainable farming

Veterinarian and third generation beef pastoralist Ellen Litchfield is heading to desert country in Africa to research leading ways to farm cattle with little rainfall.

She’s also traveling to South America and the United States to explore the ways the world’s leading red meat producers tackle climate change as South Australia faces further climate challenges in coming decades.

“Our farming is completely reliant on rain, it really dictates our production values,” Dr Litchfield, who lives on Wilpoorinna Station south of Marree, says.

“I’m 100% sure climate change is happening but drought has always been one of the biggest problems facing our state, we need to be leaders in adapting, using new technologies and techniques.”

Dr Litchfield is among a growing number of SA women undergoing world-leading research in the agriculture industry to ensure local farmers are at the forefront in sustainably feeding the world.

Dr Ellen Litchfield and her father, Gordon Litchfield.

Others include Dr Penny Roberts, site leader at the new $3.7 million Clare Research Centre with its focus on growing the best legume crops including lentils, chickpeas, faba beans and field peas.

And then there’s the women leading research at industry organisations, like Susie Green at the Apple and Pear Growers Association of SA and Caroline Rhodes at Grain Producers SA.

Dr Litchfield recently won a 2019 Nuffield scholarship supported by Westpac to research how red meat producers in arid and semi-arid regions around the world can better farm with less water and feed.

She is already well versed in farming in desert country, having grown up on Wilpoorina Station – returning 18 months ago after studying in Adelaide then Wagga Wagga to gain her veterinarian qualification.

She then travelled and worked around Australia and the world.

Dr Litchfield is now home with her fiancée Blake Ward to help her parents Gordon and Lyn Litchfield run the station.

It is part of the vast, family owned and run Litchfield Pastoral Company that takes in three stations with a combined 600,000ha.

Dr Ellen Litchfield runs Wilpoorina Station with her family south of Marree.

“I just love the lifestyle working here, I like the feeling you are working toward something bigger, we are trying to maintain this natural ecosystem as well as to be able to feed people well into the future,” Dr Litchfield says.

“Food security is a big issue facing our society.”

Her uncle Peter and aunt Janine Litchfield are at Mundowndna and Ellen’s brother Adam and his wife Kate Litchfield are at Mt Lyndhurst.

There can be up to 5000 cattle and 10,000 Dorper sheep organically farmed across the properties, but Dr Litchfield says this fluctuates dramatically depending on rainfall.

“We had high rainfall in 2010 with about 400mm, a few years after that numbers of stock will be up but then when it gets drier numbers fall,” she says.

At the moment, the stations are holding up under the nation’s drought conditions but “we’ve had about 36mm this year, most of the rain we had last year in January” with Dr Litchfield keen to pursue best practice.

There’s still some dry feed but stock is being sold and “if there’s no rain before summer it will be a bit tough”. It helps that the family has chosen resilient stock.

Dorper sheep originated in South Africa and were bred for heat tolerance and, while cattle are mainly Angus, there are also dark, red Senepols “that have slick hair with good heat tolerance”.

“They are using them more in the Caribbean with dairy dropping off because of rising temperatures, crossing Freesians with Senepols,” Dr Litchfield says.

Dr Penny Roberts from the Clare Research Centre. Photo by Gabrielle Hall.

At Clare Research Centre, site leader Dr Penny Roberts who has a PhD in pasture cropping, says analysis is underway on different legume varieties along with trial growing sites around the state.

“We’re looking at what legume crops to grow where, and also how best to grow them, from pre-sowing and all the way through to harvest,” she says, adding that research was supported by Grains Research and Development Corporation funding.

The PIRSA centre also studies best species and varieties for pulse farmers to grow in specific regions with Dr Roberts saying there’s been a quantum change in the way these crops are grown in SA.

SA farmers traditionally planted pulses in rotations to provide nutrients and weed breaks for the cereal phase, with wheat and barley being the dominant crops.

“Now in some areas pulses are becoming the largest proportion of the cropping system,” Dr Roberts, who recently returned from a 13-day research tour in Canada, says.

“The aim of our research is to improve the production and profitability.”

Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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30 years of paddock to pallet at the SA Produce Market

The champion of South Australia’s horticultural sector – the South Australian Produce Market (SAPM) – is celebrating 30 years in the field.

It’s a time over which the state’s only wholesale market has achieved a self-sufficient energy supply and a continued reputation for supporting local growers who attribute much of their livelihoods to the fruit and veg hub.

SAPM trades 250,000 tonnes of fresh produce between 45 wholesalers, 60 growers and hundreds of retail operators each year, worth an estimated wholesale value of $550 million.

Although the SAPM is celebrating its 30th anniversary in northern Adelaide this month, its extended history dates back to the days of the East End Market on East Terrace in Adelaide’s CBD.

The East End Market operated for more than a century until its closure in 1988.

SAPM CEO Angelo Demasi says three decades of innovation, growth and business philosophies have led to the special milestone for the market’s Pooraka home.

The SA Produce Market is celebrating 30 years of supporting the state’s food and agricultural industry.

“We recognise how important the grower, wholesaler and retailer supply chain are to the public and the efforts that they go to, to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to the public,” he says.

“We are undertaking many projects to ensure the sustainability of the market, and the businesses that rely on it for many more years to come.”

Many of the market’s growers and wholesalers are long standing or multi-generational fruit and vegetable growers including Mercurio Bros, Parker and Sons, and Ceravolo Orchards.

The market is renowned for its early morning activity, with growers rising in the wee hours to transport their goods from farm to pallet. Buyers include IGA, Foodland, independent retailers and greengrocers.

The SAPM has continued to transition over the past 12 months, with an expansion project set to open the market to the general public for the first time.

“The development will include a retail component which will include a factory or more like a farm-gate outlet for consumers to purchase fresh food and affordable produce direct from market,” Angelo says.

The food precinct expansion will also allow food processors an opportunity to take their business “to the next level” with shared infrastructure including loading docks, and education and cooking areas.

The market is also home to the state’s first onsite energy microgrid, comprising a 4.2MWh lithium-ion battery, a 2.5MW solar PV system comprising 8500 solar panels, and a 2.5MW onsite generator.

It will supply the site’s entire energy demand and also export power to the National Electricity Market.

A forklift whizzing by with pallets of fresh fruit or veggies is not an uncommon sight at the market. Photo by SA Mushrooms.

“This will enable all of our growers and wholesalers to enjoy cheap reliable power to ensure they continue to be cost competitive both on a local, national and international level,” Angelo says.

The market holds the interests of the horticultural industry at heart, often playing an advocacy role in tough times such as major flood events that affect growers.

In more recent times, SAPM has backed the strawberry industry by installing a metal detector to help boost consumer confidence following the national strawberry needle crisis.

In September 2018 a number of needles were found deliberately planted inside strawberries sold across the country.

SA is on the cusp of its strawberry season which typically runs between October and May.

The metal detector – supported by $50,000 from the State Government – will be communal, so it can be used by all local strawberry growers as well as other horticulture-related commodities.

The state produced about 6000 tonnes of strawberries with a farmgate value of $42 million in 2016/17.

Angelo admits the running of the market isn’t without its challenges, but SA’s food industry is ramping up.

“The optimism is good and we have started to see a surge in exports,” he adds.

Header photo is SA Produce Market’s Greg Pattinson, left, and Angelo Demasi.

Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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On the Run drives boutique South Aussie milk sales

Dairy farmers are tasting success in a growing number of boutique ventures with a leading light, the South Australian owned Fleurieu Milk, preparing to launch into 135 On the Run stores in the next few weeks.

The Myponga-based business was started by three local families when dozens of dairies facing tough market conditions were closing in the early 2000s.

Now, it is part of a brave new independent approach being embraced by SA consumers.

At peak body South Australian Dairyfarmers Association (SADA), CEO Andrew Curtis lists Tweedvale Milk in the Adelaide Hills, Udder Delights, Jersey Fresh, B.-d. Farm Paris Creek and Robe Dairy among others creating a new boutique world for local farmers.

Then there’s SADA itself playing its part in changing the dairy landscape.

Andrew says the industry group joined forces with a Mt Compass dairy farmer and a former MP to broker a deal to support local farmers with supermarket giant Coles in 2012.

As a result, Coles now sells local milk packaged and distributed by Parmalat Australia in Clarence Gardens as SADA Fresh – sending 20c/litre sold back to SADA.

“We use this money for education and projects, introducing kids to dairy farming, and working around on-farm practices such as irrigation efficiency,” Andrew says.

Dairy is now Australia’s third largest agricultural industry with about 230 dairies in SA producing nearly 10% of national production.

In April, 2016, many of these dairy farmers hit rock bottom with farmgate prices plummeting and feed costs rising.

Struggling major national processor Murray Goulburn slashed its price for milk sending shock waves through the industry, already reeling from supermarket giants selling milk as low as $1/litre.

There was a two-pronged fight back for SA farmers.

A major campaign was launched encouraging consumers to support local dairy farmers that Andrew says activated a 10% shift in consumers moving to branded local milk.

Fleurieu Milk are one of many local SA dairy producers helping support local farmers and provide consumers with more choice.

Growing numbers of dairy farmers also realised that a steady movement already underway from the early 2000s to create more independent, boutique brands could be a saviour.

Nick Hutchinson, the general manager of Fleurieu Milk Company, says the incredible support shown by Australians in buying locally branded and owned milk drove an upswell in his company’s sales.

“We had huge growth two years ago when the dairy industry really hit the media, the consumers became more aware and there was a big push to buy local milk where profits didn’t go to companies overseas,” he says.

“It declined a bit after the campaign but this has now stabilised and in the last three months we’ve had substantial growth.”

In two weeks the company, which now also has two other farms supplying milk and has launched a range of flavoured milks and yoghurts, will launch the brand through On the Run service stations.

Products are already sold through Foodland stores, IGAs and other independently-owned stores.

It is also planning to launch a new line of yoghurt celebrating unique, native plant flavours including Kakadu plum and quandong.

Nick Hutchinson, general manager of Fleurieu Milk Company.

Nick says the venture with Indigenous and SA-owned company Something Wild – that sources the ingredients – was a local job creator.

“The industry as a whole is evolving, there’s a push for long life and skim milk products and it’s extremely price competitive, for Fleurieu Milk we’re niche and that works for us,” he says.

While his business is on the Fleurieu Peninsula, about half of SA’s dairies are in the state’s South East, the rest are in the Adelaide Hills, Lower Murray, and the Barossa, with most milk still sent to larger processors.

Andrew from SADA says dairy farmers are facing fresh challenges with the drought creating feed shortages but believes the growing boutique approach will help.

“That’s the great thing about SA in the food space, we are innovative, our artisan brands like Udder Delights or Golden North ice cream all do well,” he says.

The SA dairy industry supports not only local farmers but local producers too, including cheesemakers.

He says Tweedvale in the Adelaide Hills was established in 1974 to process and sell milk and cream from neighbouring dairy farms in Lobethal.

While in the Barossa there’s a group of 14 dairy farms who joined forces to negotiate a higher, fixed minimum price with Woolworths that now sells their milk under the Farmer’s Own brand.

The Alexandrina Cheese Company started on the shores of Lake Alexandrina in 2001 while Alexandrina Farm sells its milk through the B.-d. Farm Paris Creek label.

Then there’s Robe Dairy on the state’s Limestone Coast – milking its own small herd of Jersey cows to produce farmhouse cheese, milk and yoghurt, using the latest and kindest of practices.

“We’ve had a growing number of those companies starting as backyard, kitchen operations to being significant businesses,” Andrew says.

A list of SA milk producers and artisan products can be found at dodairy.com.au

Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Thornby Premium Lamb shares prime produce with the world

Thornby Premium Lamb has diversified its business model by entering the export market for the first time with its self-branded lamb products.

Thornby Premium Lamb products, including retail and consumer-ready packs, hit Japan in July this year, with plans also underway to target the Chinese market.

The longstanding family business is run by Paul McGorman, his brother Alex and father John who operate the family farm at Sanderston on the outskirts of the Murray Mallee.

They also run a premium breeding property on Kangaroo Island, mating merino ewes to white Suffolk rams to produce high quality lambs raised for meat.

Paul McGorman says the family farm supplied to wholesale markets before making the decision to value-add to the business by launching their own premium meat brand, now spotted in butchers and restaurants across SA and interstate.

Alex, left, Paul and John McGorman of Thornby Premium Lamb, which won the title of Australia’s Best Lamb in 2014.

A full-time sales and marketing role was created recently to help push the Thornby brand.

“We have always been big on diversification,” Paul says.

“While we sell our own branded product in Adelaide and Melbourne butchers and restaurants, we’re very excited by our first export to Japan this year.

“We’re taking full control and we’re also looking actively into the Chinese market – we’re going to a trade show in Shanghai in November.”

Paul says the decision to branch out from the farm’s traditional ties to the saleyard market was spurred after Thornby snagged the title of Australia’s Best Lamb at Lambex in 2014.

“We always thought that one day we’d have our own premium branded products and after winning a few awards we decided it was time to put our lamb out there,” he says.

“We’ve identified that there is a trend in the food industry where people want to know where their food is coming from.”

About 6000 lambs are bred at Thornby’s Kangaroo Island property, where they are raised until they reach weaning at about six months of age.

They are then brought to the Thornby feedlot at Sanderston where they are fed a grain-based diet for about 10 weeks before reaching the end stage of production.

The McGormans crop about 2400ha per year of wheat, barley and hay to feed the livestock. They also practice in wool production.

“With our self-feeders, the lambs can access high-quality grain 24/7 and there is plenty of room for them to roam naturally.

“They therefore grow at a faster rate because they’re eating a good quality diet and not having to forage for grass all day long. You end up with produce that is tender, with a milder flavour.”

Paul, front, and Alex McGorman are behind Thornby Premium Lamb which begun exporting its own branded products this year.

Thornby Premium Lamb turns over more than 50,000 lambs a year, breeding about 6000 of them while buying in the remainder from other farmers.

The business employs a team of 14 and Paul says many of its workers are in their mid ‘20s, proving that a career in South Australia’s agribusiness industry is still a viable pathway.

“The average age of our employees is about 23, and we employ attitudes not skills. Our employees are keen to learn and willing to get involved,” he says.

“There is strong jobs growth in agriculture and the meat and wool prices are going up, so it’s definitely a good time to be involved in agriculture.

“We’re excited by the future, enough so that we are significantly investing in a new shearing shed with a purpose-built showroom to display our product range.”

Thornby Premium Lamb products can be found at The Barossa Co-op,Feast! Fine Foods at Unley, Norwood, and the Adelaide Central Market, and increasingly in a number of SA restaurants supplied by Galipo Food Company.

“When you support local brands you’re supporting local farmers,” Paul adds.

Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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