Mulyan Mixed Farm Allows Flexibility at Cowra

Source: NICOLA BELL, The Weekly Times

GROWING a wide variety of crops might sound complex, but for Ed Fagan it makes complete sense. Ed, who was named the NSW Farmer of the Year in 2015, has three divisions on his family’s 1600ha property, Mulyan Farms, at Cowra in NSW — livestock, a broadacre cropping program and horticulture crops.

On the livestock front the Fagans run about 2000 sheep for prime lambs and trade 50 cattle a year, while in the broad­acre operation they grow wheat, canola, maize (corn), sunflowers, faba beans, mung beans, popcorn and chick peas. The horticulture enterprise has a long history, with crops first planted in the 1940s. Now, horticulture crops consist of baby spinach, cucumbers, beetroot, asparagus and baby leaf lettuce. While the variety of produce grown at Mulyan might sound complex, Ed said it isn’t like that from the day to day running. “A lot of the crops don’t cross over, so while we are harvesting cucumbers, nothing is happening with the sunflowers and corn so they don’t require our effort,” he said. Although a range of technology is used across the operation for efficiency, Ed said they didn’t “overcomplicate things”. “Every enterprise has to make money or there is no point,” he said. “We don’t want to be reliant on one crop. “We want the ability to drop a crop if it isn’t right that season, that is why we are so diversified.”

THERE is no set crop rotation, with rotations decided on a risk minimisation basis each year. They attempt to have a break of at least two years before growing a similar crop on the same block. A permanent bed system has been implemented, using controlled traffic and GPS technology. Soil tests are carried out annually, with fertiliser or compost applied according to the results. Corn — both maize and popcorn — are the main summer crops, with 180ha planted this year. Harvest starts in mid-March.

The maize is a white gritting corn variety used to make food products like tortillas, and two varieties of popcorn were grown — one for the cinema market and the other for the candied market. “Corn is a fairly hardy crop and Cowra is a good place to grow it because we’ve got good soil, water and enough heat to dry it down, but cooler nights, so it suits the climate,” Ed said. A “good” corn crop at Mulyan is 18 tonnes/ha, with the average at 16 tonnes/ha. Corn is a good converter of water and gives a lot of yield per hectare.” For the first time this year 30ha of mung beans have been planted. “We are heavily weighted to corn in summer, so we need a crop in that cycle that isn’t a grass or sunflowers, so mung beans are good in that rotation and they help fixate nitrogen,” Ed said. “The price is good and they are frugal with water.”

WHILE both mung beans and corn can be grown dryland, the Fagans use supplementary irrigation from their licence for more than 6600 megalitres. Cucumbers and 12ha of sunflowers round out the summer cropping program. Sunflowers are harvested in March and their average yield is 3 tonnes/ha on irrigation with prices sitting around $850 to $900 a tonne. Cucumber harvest begins in December and continues until mid-April. Harvesting is undertaken by hand, but Ed is hoping it will become mechanical in the future. The cucumbers are grown for a wholesale group that supplies the eastern states.

Ed said all the cucumbers had a home, whether small, medium or large sizes. Cucumbers were supplied to the juicing market, fast food slicing and the pickle market. The cucumbers were direct seeded and open field grown, and once picked they were washed, graded and packed on farm. The business is the only large-scale growers of baby spinach in NSW, growing 35 crops a year of baby spinach, which equates to about 80ha. A specialised high density precision seeder is used to plant it, which is harvested after 28-60 days, depending on the time of the year.

HARVEST of the baby spinach is carried out with a specialised baby leaf harvester imported from the UK. Ed doesn’t shy away from the fact baby spinach is a hard crop to grow. He said if there was a problem with it, such as a pest, they basically couldn’t rectify it, so instead they had to be preventive. Once harvested the baby spinach and lettuce is run through a vac cooler, which is able to cool bins of lettuce from 25C to 4C in about 20 minutes. It is then put on to trucks and transported down the road to their cool rooms, which are set at 2C, until dispatch to processors in refrigerated trucks. Growing horticulture crops like baby spinach comes with “another level of food safety”. Ed said field hygiene had to be spot on and inputs were carefully considered. The baby spinach harvester is sanitised every day to a clear procedure. While Ed said there was no philosophy about not spraying crops, instead they “selectively” used chemicals. “We use the softest chemistry we can and we are careful with withholding periods,” he said. “In horticulture the leaf we spray is the leaf people eat and spraying also costs money.” He said sometimes spraying wasn’t worth the cost when weighed against the impact of a pest or disease, but others had a problem that would have a detrimental effect so they sprayed.

THE Fagans have about 20 permanent staff, as well as a team of backpackers. Backpackers are employed to help with harvest as well as pulling out large weeds, instead of spraying. The property has been in the Fagan family since 1886, with high value vegetable crops grown from 1944 to 2002. “We pretty much grew everything you could find in a can — beetroot, corn, asparagus,” Ed said. The production of the vegetable crops was significantly reduced in 1992 with the closure of the Cowra Edgell cannery. The main enterprises then shifted to cereal crops, hay and sheep from 2002 to 2005, before lettuce production was introduced in the drought years of 2006 to 2010 to supplement the dry land cereal crops. The vegetable crops then expanded and has been a huge success. They also run a packing shed, where some of the crops are washed and packed.

2017-11-01T21:47:19+11:00March 29th, 2017|

Australia’s First Horticulture Robotics Centre

Source: NICOLA BELL, The Weekly Times

THE first horticultural robotics hub in Australia was officially opened in Sydney today. The Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, located at the University of Sydney, will initially host $10 million worth of projects in robotics and autonomous technology.

Horticulture Innovation Australia chief executive John Lloyd said the new centre aimed to increase farm efficiencies by minimising labour costs and preparing for the future. Through work completed so far, Mr Lloyd said they had developed technology that can detect foreign matter and robots that have autonomous weed identification and eradication capabilities.

Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston, officially opened the centre. Ms Ruston said the centre would support the horticulture industry in defining and monitoring its strategic objectives around robotics and related technologies, and provide opportunities to interact with other agricultural industries interested in robotics.

“We see the future of Australian agriculture is about being smarter, as we are never going to be the cheapest producers,” she said. The centre will support three large projects, which are multi-scale monitoring tools for managing Australian tree crops, evaluating and testing autonomous systems developed in Australian vegetable production systems, and using autonomous systems to guide vegetable decision making on-farm.

2017-11-01T22:04:39+11:00October 6th, 2016|

Mulyan Cowra Livestock, Broadacre Farming & Intensive

Source: NICOLA BELL, The Weekly Times

Cowra livestock, broadacre farming and intensive horticulture producer, Ed Fagan, has been named the 2015 NSW Farmer of the Year. Member for Cootamundra, Katrina Hodgkinson, visited his farm and congratulated him on his award. “Ed’s work in improving soil health and weed control was impressive and he has come away with the highest of honours,” Katrina said.

“Farmers in our region are exceptional producers and it is great to see Ed recognised for his hard work and devotion to the agricultural sector.” Ed Fagan operates Mulyan Farm, a 1600 hectare diversified enterprise that trades cattle, breeds and trades fat lambs and grows wheat, canola, maize, popcorn and oats. In addition, horticultural crops, including beetroot, asparagus, red and brown onions are grown, and Mulyan Farm is the only commercial baby leaf spinach producer in NSW.

Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair and NSW Farmers’ President Derek Schoen presented the 2015 NSW Farmer of the Year Award during the Farm Writers’ Association Christmas lunch held at Parliament House in Sydney. Mr Blair said Mr Fagan has shown outstanding achievement, focusing on management skills, use of innovation, profitability, environmental sustainability and community involvement.

“Mr Fagan’s commitment to protect natural resources by improving soil nutrition, weed control and innovative research and development are incredibly impressive,” Mr Blair said. “It is innovative initiatives in the farming sector like this that will build the future of the state’s $12 billion primary industries sector.

“Right across the state we are seeing farmers embracing new and innovative ways to do business that are leading the world and the finalists in this year’s Farmer of the Year Awards are testament to that.” Mr Blair also acknowledged the achievements and congratulated the other finalists – Canobolas cherry and apple growers Fiona and Bernard Hall and Batemans Bay oyster farmer Ewan McAsh.

NSW Farmers President Derek Schoen said this year’s finalists demonstrate the state’s diverse farming enterprises and congratulates them on their brilliant achievements. “Ed Fagan, Ewan McAsh and the Halls are innovative, very hard working and passionate about agriculture,” Mr Schoen said. “They show qualities in business management skills and sustainable production practices that ensure a high standard quality product we all can enjoy.

“Their successful enterprises are making valuable contributions to their local communities and our national economy.” The annual NSW Farmer of the Year Award recognises the best farmers in NSW, focusing on their agricultural management skills, their use of innovation, profitability, environmental sustainability and community involvement. The Award is an initiative of the NSW Farmers Association and NSW Department of Primary Industries, with support from The Land and SafeWork NSW. Mr Fagan has won a cash prize of $10,000 and the two other finalists receive $2,000 each.

2017-11-01T21:49:43+11:00December 14th, 2015|

Farmer of the Year with Diversified Enterprise

Source: Cassandra Hough – ABC Rural

If there is a food that can be produced in the Cowra region, there is a pretty good chance Ed Fagan from Mulyan Farm grows it. Mr Fagan has been awarded the New South Wales Department of Primary Industry’s Farmer of the Year at an awards lunch in Sydney. The Fagan family’s 1600-hectare property produces lambs, wheat, canola, oats and popcorn, as well as horticulture crops including beetroot, asparagus, onions and baby spinach, and trades cattle.

Mr Fagan said he had been fortunate his property was well suited to horticulture as well as broad acre farming. “I know it sounds complex but it doesn’t seem that complex from day to day running. A lot of the crops don’t cross over, so you might have beetroot for a portion of the year and then we finish beetroot and then we can start onions, so it’s not as though everything is colliding.”

Processors have approached Mr Fagan to produce a number of the crops he grows, and he has been able to build his business around those arrangements. “We grow a lot of specialty crops and a lot of them we’ve been approached to grow, so it’s not as though I’ve gone out and grown something and crossed my fingers and hoped we could sell it,” he said. “The marketplace can be saturated at times and to give yourself a point of difference is something we’ve tried to do.

“So with red onions for instance, we’ve tied up genetics for a specific line of red onions that no one else has, and we’ve partnered with other companies in different areas of the country so we can have a block of marketing.”

Trying different things makes an impact…
The judges highlighted Mr Fagan’s use of innovation, management skills, environmental sustainability and community involvement as some of the keys to his win. However, Mr Fagan said he did not believe he had done any one big thing to improve his enterprise, but had tried a number of small different things that had made an impact. When the competition was so strong, there’s a lot of satisfaction in winning I can assure you, but I’m still really surprised.

Ed Fagan, NSW Farmer of the Year
“To do something and see a positive result I’ve probably had 10 failures to get to that one positive result, so it’s more of a relief than anything else.” He said a lot of work had gone into ensuring his products stood out in the marketplace. Mr Fagan acknowledged the other competition finalists including Canobolas cherry and apple growers Fiona and Bernard Hall, and Batemans Bay oyster farmer Ewan McAsh. Mr and Mrs Hall operate Caernarvon Cherry, a cherry and apple growing, packing and marketing business at Canobolas in the state’s central-west. Mr McAsh produces 60,000 dozen Sydney Rock Oysters each year on the Clyde River at Batemans Bay. Mr Fagan said he thought he had been a 100–1 chance to win. “I was lost for words really. It was such a surprise and such an honour to win,” he said. “I guess you could win an award and if the competition was really poor, I don’t think you’d get a huge amount of satisfaction out of it, but when the competition was so strong, there’s a lot of satisfaction in winning I can assure you, but I’m still really surprised.”

2017-11-01T21:54:56+11:00December 10th, 2015|

Farmer of the Year Crown to Cowra’s Ed Fagan

Source: MATTHEW CAWOOD – The Land

Cowra mixed farmer Ed Fagan has been awarded the 2015 NSW Farmer of the Year at an awards lunch in Sydney. The Fagan family’s 1602-hectare Mulyan Farm stretches the concept of “mixed farming”. The operation trades cattle, breeds and trades lambs, grows wheat, canola, maize, popcorn and oats and produces intensive horticultural crops including beetroot, asparagus, red and brown onions and baby spinach.

It was the professionalism that went into each aspect of the operation that impressed this year’s judges. The other finalists were South Coast oyster grower Ewan McAsh and Orange orchardists Bernard and Fiona Hall.

Mr McAsh impressed for providing a marketing platform that gives small oyster farmers critical mass and marketing reach, while the Halls’ Caernarvon Cherry business provides packing and marketing for 20 other orchardists in the region.

2017-11-01T22:07:21+11:00December 9th, 2015|

Cowra Farmer Best in The Business

Source: The Land

COMPARING apples with oranges looks relatively easy against weighing up the merits of the three NSW Farmer of the Year finalists for 2015. When the judges toured the enterprises recently, they saw production systems for oysters, asparagus, cherries, spinach, beetroot and apples. Cowra’s own, Ed Fagan from Mulyan Farms is a finalist once again this year, but the road hasn’t always been an easy one, with the farm facing a real fight when the cannery closed.

“The closing of the cannery forced us to look at the whole market and figure out where we could provide a service,” Mr Fagan said. “Baby spinach is taking more and more of our time and land, but we produce enough to fill three semi trailers worth a week,” he said. The farm is also getting back into asparagus. “There are a lot of people out there who know what this is and how to grow it, because it has been grown in Cowra for years,” he said of asparagus. Mr Fagan’s farm has been runner up in the awards on more than one occasion, in a case of always the bridesmaid and never the bride. “I’m not letting myself get too excited,” he said.

“But winning would be good, I would put the prize toward my new kitchen.” The award aims to highlight entrepreneurial approaches to farming outside the mainstream broadacre cropping and livestock sectors. In Orange, Fiona and Bernard Hall of Caernarvon Cherry have made their orchard and packing facilities a hub for 20 other orchardists around the region, providing them with processing and marketing facilities for cherries and apples.

By expanding their throughput, and extending cherry season by sourcing across a wide geographical area, the Halls have been able to build relationships with major domestic retailers and export customers in over five countries. They have also developed a cherry juice, which addresses some of the seasonality issues with cherry production.

At Batemans Bay, Ewan McAsh has built Signature Oysters on top of the Clyde River oyster-farming business co-founded with his father, Kevin. Signature Oysters provides a collaborative packing and marketing platform that gives small oyster farmers more critical mass and marketing reach. It emphasises oyster provenance, and the McAsh’s are exploring new oyster breeds, like the Angasi, to help chefs highlight oysters on their menus.

Near Cowra, Ed Fagan at Mulyan Farms has harvested technologies and genetics from around the world to build an innovative horticultural enterprise growing the State’s only asparagus, and spinach and beetroot. Mulyan Farms also grows wheat, canola, maize, popcorn and oats; and trades cattle, and breeds and trades fat lambs it also has a quarry. The three enterprises were assessed by four judges: Mr Schoen, Brett Fifield of NSW Department of Primary Industries, Tony Williams of SafeWork NSW, and Matthew Cawood, representing The Land.

Their task is to identify one operation that represents “outstanding achievement, focusing on management skills, use of innovation, profitability, environmental sustainability and community involvement”. Mr Schoen said all the finalists demonstrated agricultural excellence. “They are facing their challenges, driving innovation in agriculture practices, utilising leading edge technology and unlocking new markets to improve the profitability of their businesses.”

Niall Blair agreed that all the finalists are great ambassadors for the state’s agriculture, “innovative and ambitious to run profitable enterprises while managing their natural resources”. The Farmer of the Year wins a cash prize of $10,000 plus and runners up receive a $2000 prize. The winner will be announced at a function at NSW Parliament House in December. The award is an initiative of NSW Farmers and NSW Department of Primary Industries, with support from The Land, and SafeWork NSW.

2017-11-01T22:01:57+11:00November 16th, 2015|

Cowra Farmers Harvesting First Asparagus in Three Decades

Source: ABC Rural – Sally Bryant, Skye Manson

The first commercial harvest of asparagus in 30 years is about to get underway in Cowra in the central west of New South Wales. Asparagus was once a mainstay for farmers in the region who sold their produce direct to local processors for the tinned vegetable market.

Ed Fagan’s family farm had more than 200 hectares of asparagus under cultivation in the 1950s and 60s. He said this year’s crop will be far smaller than that, but will be sold as fresh product. “To have asparagus back in Cowra gives us something that’s slightly different,” he said. “At the moment it’s very much a go-to item. People are buying it and the in-store growth in asparagus is quite large. “The amount we’re doing is not enough to flood the market at all, so I’m quite excited about it.”

Farmer Ed Fagan on asparagus production in Cowra – ABC News – Audio:

2017-11-01T22:19:44+11:00September 4th, 2015|

Bringing up Baby Spinach for Fussy Consumer Market

Source: ABC – NSW Country Hour – Melissa Hamling

“Anything can affect spinach. One day you can look at it and program that we will be harvesting a certain amount the following week, and in the meantime all you need is a little spot on the leaf, be it heavy rain or disease or whatever, and people won’t want it. “It’s got to look like a nice bright green lawn with nothing coming through it because the consumer wants their bag of spinach to look perfect every time. They don’t want to open it up, tip it into a bowl and out pops a weed or a yellow leaf,” he said. After the spinach is harvested it is sent to the processors to be triple washed, but before that Mr Fagan said he’d done all he could to ensure the spinach leaving his farm is perfect.

“We can’t have animals roaming across here, we can’t use manure on this crop. Everything has to be spot on because we can’t have a food safety scare come from here.” To help with quality control at harvest time, Mr Fagan is now working on an optical sorter to attach to the harvester that will knock out anything that’s below par colour-wise. “It’s got numerous optics on it that sense the colour of whatever goes past so we’ve programmed it to let bright green go through and take out brown, yellow or anything else. “At the moment we are trialling it so we don’t ever have any problems with foreign bodies like sticks or Poplar leaves. There’s more and more pressure on us now to make sure no one gets a leaf in their salad bowl.”

2017-11-01T22:11:54+11:00July 16th, 2015|

Canning Future Under Threat, Farmers Say

Source: SMH – Lucy Carroll

Australian farmers predict the production of locally grown vegetables for canning will come to an end within two years, as cheap imports and demand for fresh food ”decimate” the market. As the federal government rejected a multimillion-dollar assistance package for food processor SPC Ardmona, Cowra farmer Ed Fagan said this year would be the first in more than five generations his farm would not harvest beetroot for canning.

”We’ve run out of people to grow for,” said Mr Fagan, one of the country’s last beetroot growers. ”You walk into the supermarket and realise the canned food is not what it used to be. The industry is a shadow of what it was 15 years ago.”

He said high labour costs, the decision by major supermarkets to sell more imported goods and an overwhelming demand for fresh, organic vegetables had forced him to find new methods of processing commercial crops. His answer is to vacuum seal beetroot in Cryovac bags, applying a similar technology used to pack meat.

”The beetroot is cooked and packed but uses no preservatives,” he said. ”It’s the bridge between canned and fresh food.” A spokesman for AusVeg, the industry body representing 9000 growers, said more farmers would be forced to find alternative methods of production as the ”crisis” facing the processing industry escalated.

Figures supplied by AusVeg show imports of canned tomatoes have almost tripled in the past two decades, from 23 million kilograms in 1996 to almost 62 million kilograms last year. The value of imported canned peas has risen from about $500,000 in 1996 to more than $3 million last year.

The government’s rejection of SPC Ardmona’s bid for $25 million to help keep its Victorian canneries operating could cost up to 3000 jobs. MP Sharman Stone, whose electorate includes the SPC factory, said the rejection could wipe out Australian processing of fruit, tomatoes and baked beans. ”The factory has already done major restructuring,” Dr Stone said. ”It’s brought its workforce down by 30 per cent and they have shut two of their factories.

”This isn’t a wage issue, it’s a problem of the cheap imported fruit which is flooding our supermarket shelves. Nothing has been done in the way of tariffs or duties to level up that dumping situation.” Last year, Simplot, which produces Edgell canned corn and beetroot, threatened to close processing plants in Bathurst and Devonport because of ”competitive pressures”. The plants will remain open, but only for a guaranteed three years.

”If the next review isn’t favourable, it will be the end of food processing in Australia,” said Bathurst farmer Jeff McSpedden. ”It will put Australian consumers at risk because everything will be imported. ”Supermarkets claim they want to stock Australian-grown vegetables but it won’t make a difference unless they push the price of imported products up … People don’t know what they’re buying. They want to support Australians but when it comes to money they want to save.”

Coles and Woolworths source their private-label canned fruit locally – from SPC – but many canned mushrooms come from China, tomatoes from Italy, beetroot from New Zealand and asparagus from Peru. Mr McSpedden, who grows about 2000 tonnes of sweet corn for Simplot each year, has been forced to cut staff. ”Eight years ago we were growing 500 tonnes of red, green cabbage and sauerkraut for canning. Now that’s all gone.”

2017-11-01T22:19:20+11:00February 2nd, 2014|

Farmer Buys into Windsor Farm Foods

Source: Food&Beverage – Danielle Bowling

A NSW beetroot farmer has bought most of the processing lines from the collapsed Windsor Farm Foods cannery in an effort to establish his own vegetable processing facility. Ed Fagan said both Woolworths and buys urged him to make the investment. “The first thing is that we have had Woolworths knocking on our door telling us to do it,” he said, according to the ABC. “That gives you confidence.”

The Windsor Farm Foods cannery in Cowra went into voluntary administration earlier this year, sacking more than 70 workers and leaving many local growers shortchanged including Fagan, who was left with $200,000 worth of beetroot uncontracted. Fagan says investing in his own processing facility will give him more control of the supply chain.

“For 70 years we’ve been growing things that have ended up going to someone else who’s preserved it or chopped it up or something else and on-sold. “We believe there is a future in value-adding and we are looking at taking that value-added step,” he said. Another farmer determined to have more control over how his produce is handled and sold is Tony Galati, one of Western Australia’s biggest fruit and vegetables growers. Galati recently launched his own big-box liquor store, the Liquor Shed, aiming to take on the supermarket duopoly and promote WA wine makers.

2017-11-01T22:30:34+11:00July 21st, 2013|
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