Collaboration, authenticity and connecting with consumers are key to diversifying and thriving in agriculture.
That was the word at the recent Scenic Rim Regional Council Resilience through Diversification Agriculture Industry Workshop.
About 75 local farmers and stakeholders filled Kerry Memorial Hall to hear first-hand success stories, get insights into how to diversify and to receive information about drought declarations, financial support and local planning laws.
Inspiration from beyond the Scenic Rim
Ross Hopper of Maleny Dairies shared his story of how diversification saved the family farm.
Mr Hopper – the third generation on the farm – started Maleny Dairies with his siblings in the year 2000 after deregulation left them facing an uncertain future.
At the encouragement of their parents Harold and Dorothy Hopper, the siblings fought back by building their own processing and bottling plant.
Today, they process and sell milk for multiple farms in the region, take 30,000 paid tourists through the farm each year and employ a strong team of staff.
Mr Hopper spoke about the importance of having a point of difference, working out what consumers want and getting people to believe in what they’re buying.
He tempered his advice with a warning about the challenges, too, candidly sharing how he struggled for the first 10 years after launching Maleny Dairies, paying for upgrades through his container and tow truck business.
Local stories and insights
Attendees also heard from a panel of local agritourism businesses comprised of Robyn Lee (Greenlee Farm), Kay Tommerup (Tommerup’s Dairy Farm), Deb Richardson (Running Creek Beef), Greg Dennis (4Real Milk) and Troy Muller (Peak Veggie Patch).
The panelists spoke about the growth in demand for authentically local food, the importance of telling your story and the need for courage and perseverance.
“I say if you’re thinking about it, go for it – jump in. It has saved our family farm,” said Kay Tommerup.
“Find someone who can teach you what you need to do and have a go, because if what you’re doing isn’t working for you now, it’s just not going to work. Do something different – it can be completely life-changing.”
Opportunity amid change
Facilitator Rose Wright of Regionality said ultimately it was about keeping farm businesses viable.
“You can get to a tipping point where you can just churn and not actually make more money,” she said.
“You really need to be able to constantly review your business and look at why you’re doing it and identify what you need to deliver to make the revenue you need to make money.”
She encouraged producers to tap into growing consumer hunger for authentic local food experiences.
“Food and drink is the highest expenditure item of domestic and international visitors, so when visitors travel and you see those great big figures around how much the visitor economy is worth, the highest single spend is not on beds, not on transport, it’s on food and drink,” she said.
“They’re into slow food not fast food, they’re into the story behind the food, they share it with family and friends, they’re happy to pay more for more, they pay a premium for the product because they attribute a value to those things.
“We’re actually tapping into consumer pull-factors and giving them part of your story as part of the value-added product. This isn’t done in isolation, this is something you do collaboratively with other people in that value chain.
“You’ve all got an opportunity to be able to connect with that and to develop that story, either on your farm or by working with other businesses who are already connected. It might be about collaborating with others and using that as a way to get your product out there.”
Mayor Greg Christensen encouraged attendees to grasp the opportunities amid the change.
“The reality is we should always be proud of what we do but we should also be aware that change is the one constant we live with – that’s the challenge we face,” he said.
“We need to have the courage to step up and take change on and be in control rather than the change controlling us. We want to walk that journey with you.”