Twenty-five growers from the Capricorn and Wide Bay-Burnett regions joined Growcom in early June for the Hort Bus Bash. The five-day tour of the Granite Belt and Lockyer Valley was an initiative of the Bushfire Recovery and Resilience in Horticulture project, intended to connect horticulture growers from Central Queensland with others to discuss challenges impacting horticulture, and strategies for being more robust and resilient. Specifically, the trip focused on impacts of unprecedented bushfires in 2019 and 2020, drought and increasing water scarcity.  

The Granite Belt region was hit hard by bushfire in early 2020. Coupled with the longest drought on record, and unprecedented heat waves, conversations amongst delegates and host growers focused on on-farm practice changes, adaptive business decisions, and coping strategies. 

Growers in the Granite Belt canvassed their different approaches over the last 24 months, including: 

  • Diversification and value-adding opportunities. 
  • Water use efficiency with ag technology. 
  • Establishment of satellite farms. 
  • Cover cropping, composts and other soil health strategies. 
  • Pruning practices.  
  • Infrastructure for capturing and storing water. 

Bus delegates were wowed by the variety of apples grown by Daniel and Toni Nicoletti at their orchard in Pozieres.  

In addition to heat waves in 2020 that affected their orchard, Daniel discussed the current challenge of a diminished workforce to pick due to COVID-19. He outlined their decision to open the orchard up to the community to pick their own apples, commenting that they were simply floored by the number of people that were interested in picking their own apples. In one weekend alone, almost 500 people turned up. Daniel encouraged growers to think about these alternatives and grasp these opportunities to educate consumers on the sustainability of your farming practices. He commented that the appetite for “pick-your-own” agri-tourism is substantial, and it would be welcome relief to them if there were more options for visitors to the Granite Belt because managing such large groups of visitors was becoming a challenge.  

Bus delegates left Nicoletti Orchards with full tummies courtesy of Toni’s Apple Slice (served warm), laden with boxes of apples and bottles of artisan apple and ginger juice (pressed and packaged on-farm). 

Other farms visited included Bratasha Farms, Twisted Gum Wines, and Taylor Family Produce. At Bratasha Farms, growers were treated to a fantastic talk by Nancy Bertinanzzi, who walked the group through their hydroponic pak choy and buk choy farm. As one of Australia’s largest suppliers of Asian vegetables, Nancy raised challenges of exporting, COVID-19 and labour, and precious water.  

Nancy described first-hand her own terrifying experience in the bushfires, and how making sandwiches for the bushfire volunteers and staff was the only way she felt she could contribute to the situation. Nancy generously listened to the bushfire stories of growers from Yeppoon that were on the trip, two of whom almost lost their entire lychee orchards in November 2019.  

A commitment to soil health and having realistic goals were key take-home messages from viticulturists Tim and Michelle Coelli of Twisted Gum Wines, and vegetable producers Ramon and Connie Taylor of Taylor Family Produce. Both businesses have incorporated the use of mulch and compost. Additionally, Taylors demonstrated a strong commitment to cover cropping, while the Coellis have adopted regenerative agriculture practices. The Coellis use grazing around their vineyard and in native bushland areas near their vineyard as part of their bushfire prevention strategy to reduce dry, flammable matter.  

Once in the Lockyer, the theme of the bus trip shifted gear with a workshop at the University of Queensland led by Founding Director of FarmReady Hub, Janne Dipple. FarmReady Pty Ltd specialises in many areas of training, resource and systems development, particularly on topics such as online inductions, compliance, agribusiness, workforce planning and development, communications and team leadership. 

Janne used her own personal farming experiences to drill down into understanding what resilience looks like, how to recognise one’s self-resilience, how to build protection to enhance resilience, and where to find tools or resources to assist.  

Throughout the trip growers were joined by expertise in natural disaster recovery and resilience including Kerry Battersby from the Queensland Farmers’ Federation, David Hall from David Hall Consulting, Lyndie Scott from Livingstone Shire Council, and Lene Knudsen from Growcom.  

To finish up, bus delegates attended the Lockyer Valley Growers Expo and Gala Dinner where they joined over 400 likeminded industry stakeholders in celebrating excellence and passion for the horticulture industry.  

“Connecting with others and taking a break from the daily grind were an important component of the Hort Bus Bash. A number of growers on the trip were from Bungundarra near Yeppoon, where the impact of bushfire on horticulture alone in November 2019 was upwards of $10M,” said bus trip coordinator and Hort360 Facilitator Michelle Haase.  

“A key aspect of being resilient to natural disasters, industry transitions and other challenges faced by primary producers, is to actively look after mental wellbeing. Keeping your mind well comes in many different forms but being connected with like-minded others, and taking time out is a good start.” 

Feedback from the bus trip was overwhelmingly positive. 

Renee Heath from Benaraby said, “It was such a fun and interesting trip, and when we were all saying goodbye to each other at the airport it felt like saying good-bye to old friends!” 

Rae Cowie from Bungundarra said, “Certainly widened their horizons to see how things can be done; seeing how other folk do things.” 

Jamile Dilges from South Yamba said, “It was great to spend some time with the local growers. Terrific job!” 

The Hort Bus Bash was funded by grower contributions, both the Australian and Queensland Government through the Flexible Funding Grant program, the National Landcare Program via the Burnett Mary Regional Group, and sponsorship from Elders, Trical Australia and Fair Farms. 

Although funding for this product has been provided by both the Australian and Queensland Governments, the material contained herein does not necessarily represent the views of either Government.