TOP CROP: Lockyer’s next gen to take farming into the future
THE future for farming in the Lockyer Valley is in good, hardworking hands.
The region’s next generation of farmers are aspiring to do bigger and better things to continue to provide for the nation.
The Gatton Star spoke to seven of the region’s young and leading primary producers to find out why they love the industry, and where they plan to take their individual farming practices into the future.
FLOWER GROWER – HAHNS SPIERLING
WHILE many are preparing for the busy Christmas season, the Spierling family will begin preparing their flower farm for Valentine’s Day next year.
Tucked away in the mountains on the edge of the Lockyer Valley, Hahns Spierling and his father Stephen run Lockyer Cut Flowers.
And at Christmas, they’ll be busy pruning their stunning red roses for the busiest period of the year – Valentine’s Day.
On average, they cut about 60,000 to 70,000 red rose stems for February 14, which are primarily delivered into the Brisbane Markets.
While a flower farm doesn’t sound like a hectic work environment, Hahns, 22, said it’s a 24/7 job, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love it, it’s the lifestyle, you don’t get much time off really, it’s seven days a week, so you’ve got to love it to do it,” he said.
The family has about six acres under flower, with an additional 500 for their mixed-breed cattle.
While red roses are Lockyer Cut Flowers’ main focus, the business has branched into ranunculus flowers after finding a gap in the market.
“We found ourselves a niche crop where we can get an early crop when the southern farms can’t,” Hahns said.
The family previous grew flowers at Grantham, but after the floods they decided to shift the business into the hills.
Hahns said West Haldon has better soils, growing conditions and airflow suited to growing flowers.
“It was a more high-cost business, higher tech, in Grantham. Everything was run by computers,” he said.
ONION GROWER – JOE KLUCK
THE next generation of farmers will have to contend with changing climate conditions and water challenges, according to Joe Kluck.
The fifth-generation onion farmer said the changes in rainfall patterns and water shortages will test growers for years to come.
“It doesn’t rain as much anymore, and when it does it’s a downpour,” he said.
“You have to put your resources into building dams and catching water because otherwise you miss out.”
Joe, 26, farms at his family’s Carpendale property, alongside his brother Frank, 29, and father Reg.
Reg still calls the shots, but the brothers each have their roles on the farm – Frank runs the packing shed, and Joe oversees the picking.
The Kluck family predominantly grow onions, but in the off season grow grain and Lucerne, across land at Carpendale, Flagstone, Helidon and the Downs.
They are aiming to venture into the export market in a bid to make use of their packing and drying facilities.
Last year, they sent onions to Victoria and Tasmania and are keen to use southern growers to help export year-round.
“We’ve got the facility, and we only use it three months of the year. If we export, we can keep it ticking over,” Joe said.
“Then we might be able to put on another permanent staff member – dad isn’t getting any younger – you don’t want to be shifting pipes when you’re 60.”
LIVESTOCK PRODUCER – ZOE BAYLISS
ZOE Bayliss fell into developing stud cattle six years ago, proving you don’t have to be born on the land to have a career in agriculture.
Her parents had been running 3Sisters Droughtmasters for about three years prior when she returned from Tasmania to the Lockyer Valley.
Zoe, 28, started helping out on the farm at Plainland before going to shows and developing her cattle skills.
“I personally had not much knowledge of cattle, and I just learned and watched from going to shows,” she said.
“The droughty community we have at shows, I’ve learned so much from them and I’ve just picked up pieces along the way.”
Zoe dubbed 3Sisters as primarily being a bull stud, as their breeding cows often dropped bull calves.
They attend the Droughtmaster sale in Gracemere every year, and for the past three years have sold bulls to studs in Western Australia.
“We focus on movability. As a bull they need to keep up with the heifers, walk up and down hills and find themselves water and feed,” Zoe said.
“If they can’t keep up with the stamina and get from place to place they get exhausted and can’t perform or produce progeny.”
This year has impacted the Bayliss’ family’s opportunity to exhibit their stud at shows, but Zoe was grateful for the break.
“We will jump straight back into it next year,” she said.
“Hopefully shows are good to go again and we can hit the ground running.”
They’ll be looking forward to the Laidley show, where in 2017 and 2018 they won grand champion bull and supreme tropical bull two years running.
VEGETABLE GROWER – JACK McNEIL
EACH year, you have to keep pushing ahead, young farmer Jack McNeil says.
The 22-year-old vegetable grower from Lower Tenthill said his family started small but have continued to expand their operation.
Jack, who left school and returned to the farm, wants to continue expanding the McNeil operation into the future.
“I want to get a bit bigger, but it’s baby steps. If you get too big too quick then it’s more headaches,” he said.
The McNeils farm lettuce, potatoes, onions and Lucerne for the domestic market.
But this year they have struggled with labour hire, as the COVID-19 pandemic stopped incoming overseas backpackers.
“Getting workers is very hard with the COVID, it’s hard to get backpackers and people to do the job,” Jack said.
He said the other impact was water supplies.
This year, the McNeils used trickle feed to irrigate their lettuce crop.
“We haven’t done it for a long time. We struggled a bit but, in the end, we got it,” Jack said.
“It cut back big time on our water usage. It costs a hell of a lot more to set up, but we got through the season with good quality lettuce.”
HAY GROWER – DANIEL POLLOCK
THE skills to grow a good crop of hay has been passed down for five generations through the Pollock Family.
Today, Daniel Pollock is the latest to carry on the family’s farming history, growing Lucerne and barley for the equine industry.
While it can get lonely sitting in a tractor for much of the day, Daniel said it’s good to have his father – and mentor – nearby.
“I probably learned more off my grandfather John, but I’m learning more off my father now that grandad is not here,” Daniel said.
The duo farm about 170 of cultivation and prior to exclusively growing hey, they dabbled in spuds and onions, and have been farming at Winwill in the Lockyer Valley for 125 years.
Daniel, who is fifth generation, said they are embracing change and technology, having two years ago installed a solar system to cut their electricity bill.
They have 288 panels and about 92kw that run two pumps on the dam, which irrigate both farms.
Recently they hooked the system up to the bores, which pump into the dams.
“It’s supposed to reduce our electricity by about a third, but it might be more now that we’re utilizing it better,” Daniel said.
The 23-year-old, who is also a keen cricketer, plans to continue the Pollock family’s farming legacy by staying on at the farm.
“We want to keep improving how things are done and modernise it a bit more,” he said.
VEGETABLE GROWERS – RANEECE & ANDREW LERCH
ANDREW and Raneece Lerch may run their Laidley Heights farm together, but for the bulk of the day, they’re apart.
The duo is preparing to take the reins from Andrew’s parents Greg and Linda Lerch, who primarily grew beetroot for Golden Circle in the earlier years.
Raneece previously ran the packing shed but is learning the books and paperwork side of the business, while Andrew is in the field.
“We don’t really see each other much during the day,” Raneece said.
The duo met through Raneece’s older brother, while Andrew was doing his apprenticeship as a heavy diesel fitter.
“I rang the house number, and she got on the house phone and got my number, then started harassing me,” Andrew laughed.
Andrew, a fourth-generation farmer, has been back at the family farm for the past nine years, and said they were starting to use machine-harvest crops.
This year, they’ve dabbled in carrots on top of the usual broccoli, cauliflower and beetroot.
“We are staring to play with carrots so we can move away from so much labour,” he said.