Improved marketing could help farmers succeed
GYMPIE'S most recent Churchill Fellowship recipient Elaine Bradley was the guest speaker at the January meeting of the Mary River Catchment Co-ordinating Committee.
Ms Bradley has recently returned from her tour of the Appalachian Mountain area of the east coast of the United States where she studied the rebuilding of local communities after a severe disruption.
Ms Bradley said that in Virginia and Carolina it was when tobacco growing stopped.
"I wanted to see how those communities have survived and see what may be relevant to help rebuild the above Gympie areas of the Mary Valley following large scale acquisitions for the ill-fated Traveston dam," she said.
"I think that there are a lot of similarities, and feel confident that the methods used in the US can help here."
Ms Bradley said one factor that stood out was that while each grower tried to do something a bit different in crops (fruit, vegetables, flowers, turkeys, goats) and marketing (stall design, packaging, prepared foods) no one was trying to do it all by themselves.
"Farmers spent a lot of time planning what to grow," she said. "They have a pretty good idea of what and how much they will produce when.
"Crop diversity is important and helps spread production risks."
Ms Bradley said this was important for one type of marketing where consumers paid an agreed-upon dollar amount to the farmer who agreed to supply certain produce for a defined period.
Ms Bradley said that many of the farms were lifestyle operations, some were providing a living with most selling direct to the consumer with a mix of organic and sustainable practices.
She said that many people in that area did not have a farming background and to overcome this "incubator farms" have been established.
These are owned by the local council and after an introductory two-month course people are allocated areas of land to grow their own produce under a mentor.
"Farm tools and equipment are available to use and fixtures such as tunnel houses, packing facilities and irrigation are available for use," Ms Bradley said.
"The aim is to give experience and an income to enable people to branch out on their own."
Because marketing takes up a lot of time there have been businesses established that contract with retail outlets to supply certain crops and then sub-contract to farmers to grow.
Ms Bradley said she was confident that a similar growing and marketing system could be adapted to suit the Mary Valley.
"The large number of consumers on the Sunshine Coast would be the target," Ms Bradley said.
She said that farmers needed to be encouraged to enter into the industry and an efficient marketing system to be adopted.
A day-by-day account of her tour is at firstname.lastname@example.org