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Nuffield Australia 2009 Autumn Tour report

Photographs taken during the tour can be viewed on the Nuffield Australian online gallery.

Approximately 80 Nuffield’s and partners have celebrated the ‘Autumn Tour’ with 4 days of exhilarating adventure of tropical farming and sightseeing in North Queensland, in a region that receives much more annual rainfall than any other area in Australia.

As the group came together on our first evening we headed out for dinner along the Esplanade to a local restaurant where it was a pleasure to see our International Chairman Peter Nixon celebrate his birthday. He enjoyed the moment to a chorus of birthday wishes and a magnificent cake to be shared by all.


Headed south of Cairns to Mourilyan near Innisfail where we took in a barramundi farm of Marty Phillips. Here they have developed a successful operation of growing the barramundi fish out to all sizes and up to 8kg; harvesting and packing in ice and sending to markets all around Australia.

Into Tully, we were greeted by ‘The Giant Gum Boot’ – standing some 8 meters tall – the amount of their annual rainfall! Tully centres on sugar and has a farmer owned sugar mill. Dick Cammilleri – Chairman of Tully Sugar, gave the group an oversight of their industry. On average the harvest area of cane supplied to the Tully mill is 23,500 Ha, producing 2 million tonnes of crushed cane, and around 250,000 tonnes of raw sugar.

Travelling through the area reveals the ongoing damage of cyclone Larry which ripped through the area two years ago. Spikes of dead timber standing out above the surrounding tropical rainforest reveal how disastrous the forces of nature can be. Not only did the forests receive destruction the sugar cane was damaged and a large area of banana plantations were destroyed, severely cutting production for 6 months until new suckers grow and produce a new crop of bananas.

The banana farm of Mackay’s visited, is the largest in Australia – employing some 250 people in the peak of the season and selling fruit all over Australia, supplying Woolworths and some to Coles as well as other markets. With quality being so important, up to 20% of fruit is culled out to present an unblemished product for the consumer.

A Nuffield tour would not be complete if a dairy farm was not included! – so yes – up to Milla Milla on top of the range one could be in New Zealand or the Victorian high country, amongst the fog and light rain showers. The Mungalli Creek organic dairy farm of Rob Watson and his family produce rich creamy milk and process their products into milk, yoghurt, and cheeses.


Starting with the returned scholar’s presentation day and the Keynote Speaker was Hayley Moynihan, Senior Analyst – Agribusiness – Rabobank in New Zealand. Hayley spoke of the Global Financial Crisis and how it will affect agriculture.

The day continued with 11 presentations of returned Scholars (including 1 New Zealand scholar). All Scholars kept the audience well entertained with the high quality reports that revealed their findings and how they will apply the learning’s to their own farms and agriculture in Australia.

Lester Marshall had Dave and Liz Brownhill embarrassed with his oysters that Dave was to pass to Liz – mouth to mouth, to improve their love life! Only problem – Liz is allergic to oysters! Unfortunately, Dave had no other takers from the audience to help him out! Lester treated scholars and guests to a wonderful entree of Coffin Bay oysters before the evening dinner.

Amongst the many highlights of the day were two gems from Graham Finlayson – ‘it takes high hurdles to achieve high goals’ and Tim Harslett ‘good farmers don’t make excuses’.


Saturday morning on board 4 mini busses, we wound our way north along the coast passing by Port Douglas, Mossman and crossing the Daintree River by barge and to an organic banana farm – one of 14 banana farms operated by Dole – an American owned company and managed by Nuffield Scholar – Marc Jackson. Being organic in the tropical environment has had its challenges with grass and weeds, insects and fungus all being a problem. The farm is slowly overcoming these problems and is supplying a quality fruit close to the quality of non-organic bananas. Between rain showers and mud we inspected the plantation which boarded the Daintree River where crocodiles make their home.

A short distance to the Daintree Tea farm which started in 1978 by the Nicholas family, and still operates and claims to be the only 100% Australian owned, grown, processed, and packaged tea plantation. An ideal area to grow tea with well drained soil and good rainfall in the growing season. The tea produces around 1 tonne/acre/year and it is said that a tea bush can last up to 100 years.

Visiting the Daintree Discovery Centre is a must while in the region, giving visitors an insight to the tropical rainforest, ecology, flora, and fauna. A look over the tree canopy from the 23 meter tower was well worth the effort. It was lovely to then have a lunch right alongside the beautiful beaches and have a walk along the sand, and get the feet wet in the cool waters flowing down the creeks and entering the sea.

Returning back to Mossman we headed inland up the range via Mt.Molloy to Mareeba to the Howe farms at Walkamin. The rich red volcanic soil has irrigation water supplied to the farm from Lake Tinaroo. Once a large tobacco growing area which no longer exists, they now grow bananas, peanuts, avocados, and coffee. This is another large family farm that is a credit to the owners, sending produce all over Australia and employing 150 people.

With the light fading we travelled to Jaques family Coffee Plantation. Originally from Tanzania, Robert and Linda established the first coffee plantation in Australia in 1974. Having had a bumpy road with high interest rates in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and a destroyed crop in the 1990’s by misused chemical from a State controlled fruit fly spraying programme, they now have a top coffee farm and have value added with farm tourism complete with coffee shop and cafe. The Jaques also built the first mechanical coffee harvester in Australia.

We had the pleasure of viewing the plantation by night- travelling on board the big red ‘Bean Machine’! Final stop on the way home at Kuranda Resort was a well deserved dinner of seafood and other tropical culinary delights, capping off 3 days of wonderful Nuffield fellowship and learning.


Remaining scholars took a boat ride out to Green Island to enjoy viewing the coral reef from glass bottom boats.

Full credit to the Queensland team headed by Marc Jackson and the help of Liz Mann. A thank you to all the presenting Scholars as well, who have done themselves and Nuffield proud.

Autumn tour presentations

Jane Bennett  The role of regionality in the marketing and branding of food (1.8 MB)

Annabelle Coppin  The Australian livestock export trade for sheep and cattle (5.5 MB)

Graham Finlayson  Beyond sustainability for the Australian pastoral industry (7.3 MB)

Mark Graham  Investment and Growth in Large-scale Agriculture (4.8 MB)

Tim Harslett  The role mechanisation and robotics will play in the future of the Australian vegetable industry (3.1 MB)

Jason Jarvis  Maximizing profitability when going organic – maintaining yield and quality in certified organic apple orchards (2.6 MB)

Lester Marshall  Developing a regional brand using company branded products to drive consumer awareness and market pull (19.3 MB)

Craige Mackenzie  Understanding the carbon footprint in farming systems (6.2 MB)

Hayley Moynihan  Global financial crisis and agricultural commodities (0.4 MB)

Matthew Munzberg  Regional branding and marketing (9.3 MB)

Jarrod Ryan  Water use efficiency (5.3 MB)

Simon Tiller  Global trends in grain production commodity markets and value adding (2.2 MB)

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