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.