Horticulture

Farmers find their niche

By Country News

From world-first banana flour to organic milk, innovative Australian farmers are cashing in on the rise of valuable niche markets fuelled by health-conscious shoppers.

Queensland banana grower Krista Watkins was fed up with the 500 metric tonnes of wasted produce being dumped from farms in her area weekly.

‘‘The reality was every week my husband and I were dumping tonnes and tonnes of beautiful bananas,’’ she told the ABARES conference in Canberra.

After their farm was ravaged by two major cyclones, Mrs Watkins and her husband Robert hit rock bottom.

Out of the devastation came the idea to establish the world’s first green banana processing facility which has now evolved to three factories producing 50 different products.

‘‘We’re the first people in the world to commercialise banana flour,’’ Mrs Watkins said.

‘‘We were gluten-free, vegan and Australian-made.’’

Other farmers’ waste including sweet potatoes and broccoli are also being converted to powder as the processing operation grows.

It’s estimated 10 per cent of food production goes to waste, about $4billion worth.

More than 3000km south of the Watkins’ property in Walkamin, Victorian dairy farmers Graham and Melissa Clay have recently secured organic certification.

The family has owned the farm since 1964, but it has undergone a radical transformation in the past three years as it sheds itself of pesticides and herbicides once thought essential to dairy production.

Australian Consolidated Milk general manager Peter Jones said Mr Clay was getting sick from chemicals and his soil was hard, with the concern prompting him to look at organic farming.

Mr Jones said while organic dairy was once thought to be unviable, with assistance producers could convert and tap into the premium price point.

‘‘It’s a niche market, but it is a niche market that’s growing not just in Australia, but globally,’’ he said.

Conversion costs can be vast but organic milk offers a more stable farm gate price, with consumers happy to pay extra.

About 0.7 per cent of Australia’s milk or about 80million litres is organic.