Growers reflect on big year

Granite Belt Growers Committee members are looking for to a prosperous 2024. Pictures: SAMANTHA WANTLING

By Samantha Wantling

2023 unfolded as a remarkable chapter for the Granite Belt Growers Association (GBGA), filled with triumphs and tribulations that mirrored the ebb and flow of nature. The region experienced a surge in growth, thanks to bountiful rainfall that filled producers’ dams with the promise of an abundant season ahead.

However, as is often the case, Mother Nature asserted her authority, unleashing hailstorms and other disasters that left an indelible mark on the region.

The challenges facing Granite Belt horticulture were acknowledged as significant, with the escalating cost of production, regulatory complexities, and stagnant or declining prices posing formidable obstacles. The past year, deemed by some as the toughest ever, showcased the extraordinary resilience and work ethic of Granite Belt farmers, whose dedication and leadership set them apart.

2023 started in the worst possible way with a catastrophic storm on 14 February, that left a path of destruction at the worst possible time for many growers.

At an evening organised by the association a mere two nights after the event, then president, Nathan Baronio encapsulated the essence of the Granite Belt farming community, describing them as dedicated, hardworking individuals who lead by example, make decisions with careful consideration, and demonstrate unparalleled resilience, innovation, and adaptability.

He guaranteed that undeterred, the resilient growers of the Granite Belt, in tandem with their association, would press on, channelling their efforts into advocacy, public relations, and fortifying the GBGA community.

Whilst there was very little to come from the early year storm, what it did do was to highlight the flaws in the way the policy makers view disasters on the Granite Belt. GBGA made it their mission this year to make the noise, to effect change and to help our farmers regain the ability to recover effectively and without crippling debt.

2023 also saw a female take on the role of president for the first time in the history of GBGA. Connie Taylor, was thrilled to step into the role and had nothing but the highest of praise for the growers on the Granite Belt, but also outlined the day-to-day battles that the growers face.

Mrs Taylor explained “our producers have all grown a tip top product for all to be proud of. But to be paid under costs for the whole year, has had tremendous effects on our producers, and the community is suffering from it“. She stressed the importance of looking after producers – be it beef, lamb, apples, berries, tomatoes, capsicum or lettuce and always buying local and always buying Australian.

As the year continued, the association continued its proactive movement and organised speakers to shed light on obligations and concerns arising from the new IR Reform Bill, fostering a collective understanding within the community. Collaborating with the local Innovation Hub, the GBGA facilitated the Node Launch and an engaging session on worm farming with Scott Carnell. Numerous other farming after-hours events were also held, featuring industry experts Angus Ferrier, Wilshire and Co., Tony Romeo and McMahon Bros. which provided valuable insights and all important networking opportunities.

The GBGA’s commitment to representing its members’ interests was evident in meetings with senators and ministers, addressing issues identified as crucial by the growers themselves. Establishing strong ties with the Queensland Fruit and Vegetable Growers association further ensured that the collective concerns of Granite Belt growers reached the right ears. The rallying cry for disaster assistance, cost of production, input issues, and employment reforms continued to reverberate, amplifying the association’s dedication to advocating for its members.

Yet, the GBGA’s impact extended beyond the paddocks and the political office, embodying a commitment to the entire community. Active participation in community events, support for local initiatives, and collaboration with diverse groups and associations underscored the association’s broader mission. Projects such as Apple Day at the Ekka, sponsorship of the GBGA Ambassador for the 2024 Apple and Grape Festival, and involvement in various events demonstrated a holistic approach to community engagement.

From the launch of the SQNNSW Innovation Hub Node to the Cultural Sustainability Project for the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme and Pacific Island Council Qld, the GBGA embraced initiatives that transcended the boundaries of traditional agriculture.

A first for the GBGA was the Ladies of the Land Lunch held at Granite Belt Brewery. Industry support officer Narissa Corfe was thrilled at the turnout, explaining how women play a pivotal role in diversifying rural economies in Queensland by establishing successful agribusinesses, value-added enterprises, and niche markets which have contributed to the economic growth of rural communities. Mrs Corfe stated “Granite Belt women in the agricultural sector excel at everything they set their sights on. They are our mothers, our sisters, our aunts, our daughters, our wives. They are administrators, payroll officers, equipment operators, innovators, chauffeurs, medics, accountants. They run our households, our businesses, our daily operations… and that’s before breakfast!”

September saw the second biennial Gala Dinner, held at the Stanthorpe Civic Centre which provided a delightful break from the rigors of farming, allowing the community to come together, don their finest attire, and engage in conversations beyond the farm and with not a sock tan to be seen.

Looking ahead, the GBGA outlined its advocacy focus for the coming year, driven by the invaluable feedback of its members. Water security, the right to farm amidst residential incursions, biosecurity, and employer’s rights and welfare emerged as key areas demanding attention.

The year 2023 was not just about farming for the Granite Belt Growers Association; it was a testament to their commitment to fostering a stronger bond between growers and the broader community, ensuring a resilient and thriving future for all.