Healthy soil, plants & people
Mulgowie vegetable farmers aim for ‘natural perfection’

Starting as a small family farming venture in the Lockyer Valley over 75 years ago, Mulgowie Farming Company has grown far and wide, with over 5000 hectares of production across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Founded by the Emerick family, Mulgowie has earned a reputation for being an industry leader in the growing, packing, distribution and marketing of Australian fresh vegetables.

As CEO of the farming company, Fabian Carniel believes expansion was made possible by a great team of committed staff members who work together to uphold the brand motto, “healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy people”.

It’s the people part of that mantra which Fabian finds especially pertinent, calling it the reason why Mulgowie has become one of the largest vegetable faming companies in the country, producing a significant volume of south-east Queensland’s vegetables.

“Good relationships are important to us,” Fabian said. “If you’re feeling comfortable and safe to do your work, both physically and mentally, than you’ll most likely give the business your discretionary effort which makes all the difference.”

“We may have rich soils, natural water sources, clean, green packhouse facilities and the latest technology, but our company only succeeds because of our people.”

More than 500 staff members, comprising of longstanding loyal workers and fresh new faces, across multiple farm operations, gives the company the advantage of being able to grow and supply sweet corn and green beans to customers year-round.

Strengthened by a shared vision, in recent years, Mulgowie has undertaken a very important project: to better integrate flood planning into their farm operations in the Lockyer Valley.

Once ravaged by floods, the flagship farm, which spans 400 hectares, is undergoing a multitude of floodplain and stream rehabilitation works in partnership with Healthy Land and Water, Queensland Urban Utilities (QUU) and the Port of Brisbane.

Fabian called it a “repatriation” project catalysed by the 2013 floods which heavily eroded the banks of Laidley Creek and washed tens of thousands of natural fertile soil downstream.

Fabian said, in the initial stages of the project, digital mapping allowed the farming company to visualise in three dimensions how to best revegetate the creek, slow storm flow and reduce flood levels.

“Along with the raising and re-battering of creek banks, we planted new trees and shrubs, including wattles, casuarinas and eucalyptus, which are now several metres high,” he said.

“Strategic cropping practices seek to maximise crop cover and infrastructure has been relocated away from creek banks to allow for future bank stabilisation.

“In some parts of the creek, the floods doubled the width of the waterways which carried hundreds of tonnes of sediment and soil downstream.“

Scientists from QUU and the Port of Brisbane estimate the project has helped rehabilitate waterway health by stopping 8800 tonnes of sediment from entering Laidley Creek each year.

That number is expected to swell to 22,000 tonnes when the full 2.4 kilometres of trees are replanted, which equates to about 1300 dump trucks of sediment from moving down into the Brisbane River.

As part of the joint initiative, Mulgowie Farming Company is also pioneering a pilot program for floodplain roughness structures which aim to slow water velocity and reduce agricultural runoff.

Three rows of vetiver, a non-reproductive, densely tufted bunchgrass, have been planted in fence lines along several paddocks, with several more yet to come.

Fabian said he hoped the company’s commitment to improving agricultural resilience would be seen as a leadership model for the wider industry to have shared learnings for the preservation of Brisbane’s waterways.

“We’re always looking to improve our risk mitigation, whether that’s by establishing multiple regional growing areas or putting specific regional farm plans in place,” he said.

“In partnering with Healthy Land and Water and the Port of Brisbane, we have embraced many scientific techniques ranging from soil science, alluvial geomorphology, precision agriculture and agronomy.

“These environmental initiatives help retain our healthy soil and preserve the integrity of our waterways so that we can continue to produce healthy plants and vegetables for healthy people.

“Much of Australia’s valuable vegetable production exists on floodplains of high energy creek systems; therefore we hope the learnings from this project can apply to other regions across Australia.”

Through championing innovation and sustainable farming practices, Mulgowie aims to achieve ‘natural perfection’ by always supplying quality, fresh and nutritious produce.

Their products are especially convenient for consumers, including corn cobbettes, cut with husks and stalks removed and fresh green beans trimmed and ready to cook.

These are supplemented by a handful of other vegetables, including broccoli, pumpkin and organics, which are seasonally grown at sites along the east coast of Australia.

Mulgowie supplies to major retailers throughout Australia, and exports to New Zealand and Asia, where the produce has gained popularity for being first to market.

“Our product goes to each of the central markets across Australia every week,” he said. “And we supply to New Zealand in the winter period, both supermarkets and agent distributors.”

In 2017, Mulgowie was named Import Supplier of the Year by Countdown Supermarkets in New Zealand, the Kiwi subsidiary of Woolworths.

Fabian said the modern consumer is interested in understanding the source of their foods and the responsibility of the farmers who produce them which puts Mulgowie at a unique advantage.

“We conduct extensive market research, analyse produce trends and regularly engage with customers to gain a better understanding of what they want from Australian farmers,” he said.

“There is a very clear direct link between soil quality, food quality and human health and a great deal of work goes into ensuring we have the healthiest possible soil.

“Combining this knowledge with continuing to keep the consumer top-of-mind, and the dedication of our staff, are the secrets to our export strategy.”

Fabian is undeniably proud of the farmers at Mulgowie Farming Company for driving success across all areas of the business.

“I believe being a farmer is one of the most decent and noblest professions on earth,” he said.

“Our farmers have a deep commitment to sustainably managing the environment and producing nutritionally rich plant-based food to support individual health and wellbeing.

“They are continuously improving, always learning about the land and how to protect it.”

Written by Sam Allen-Ankins
Photography by Sam Allen-Ankins

Mulgowie Farming Company is featured in the May 2019 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.