Growing a Dynasty
Ray Taylor takes his family business to the next level
After 78 years in the game, Taylor Family Produce’s reach across south east Queensland shows no sign of slowing down.
For Ray Taylor, vision and expansion have been a constant for the family from the get go.
Ever since the fourth generation farmer moved to Amiens at the tender age of 21, he has grown the farming business from strength to strength.
“My family started in Michelton in Brisbane behind Michie State High School. It’s all houses now of course. And in 1967 my father moved to Redland Bay – he was farming with his father then – and in 1992 I moved to Amiens, so every generation just about has moved to a new district,” Ray said.
With nothing but a tractor and inspiration set by his father, Ray made a home for himself in Stanthorpe where he has farmed vegetables for more than 25 years. What began as a modest five acres of cropping has grown to more than 283 ha (700 acres) which includes iceberg lettuce, broccoli, Chinese cabbage (Wombok), celery, silverbeet and cauliflower.
Taylor Family Produce comprises eight farms in total between Amiens, Redland Bay and Liston in New South Wales. Redlands was originally the main hub of production, but business has expanded exponentially in Stanthorpe – so much so that Ray is running out of space.
In the last 18 months, he’s acquired another 728 ha (1800 acres) at the Liston farm to support a spring harvest. He runs a tight ship, constantly on the lookout for the most efficient use of resources, to ensure production runs all year round.
“We’re chasing this particular micro-climate all the time. It’s a jigsaw, putting a piece here and a piece there, I just don’t know where it ends yet,” he said.
Managing the business alongside him is Ray’s wife Connie with whom he has two boys, aged 13 and 16.
When they first met, she was working as a pharmacy assistant but it wasn’t long until she was sharing the responsibility of running the family business.
“It was just growing so fast and Ray needed me more in the office. I got a Diploma in Agribusiness and that’s the only qualification I have other than being a mother and a nag,” she said.
As operations managers, they make a formidable team – Ray, running marketing and logistics; and Connie, supervising the shed, packing and staffing.
“Computer-wise, Connie’s been excellent because I lack a bit of skill in that area – so it works well,” Ray said.
Part of their success can be pinned down to the company they keep and the network of hardworking employees that surround them. Whenever they are in doubt, they turn to the experts for advice.
“If we don’t know, we ask. We have a consultant for our quality assurance and she’s wised up on the ins and outs of it all,” Connie said.
Ray says the rapid expansion of their business was not pre-determined but evolved naturally.
“We never planned on being the size we are. There was never a specific goal in sight,” he said.
“But I knew water was going to be a high-dollar commodity as time went on so I bought any acquisitions I could get my hands on at the right times.”
Ray and Connie went through a phase of acquiring a new block of land for Taylor Family Produce annually and were nominated for a Syngenta Growth Award as a result of growing their business by 20 per cent year on year from 2010-2016.
They are now one of the biggest horticulture producers in the region and supply a phenomenal volume of fresh vegetables to supermarket chains, markets and for export to Singapore.
Iceberg lettuce is a hugely popular variety in Australia and the Taylors devote 84 ha (210 acres) of land to its production each year. This translates to about 1.8 million heads of lettuce.
When they are not harvesting 37 weeks of the year, they are kept busy planting 180,000 iceberg seedlings, 50,000 Chinese cabbage (Wombok) seedlings, 130,000 celery seedlings, and 50,000 per week. They also plant 175,000 broccoli seedlings per week for a period of 32 weeks. The sheer volumes they are dealing with makes for a demanding business.
More than 70 per cent of their produce goes to major retailers and around 30 per cent goes to wholesale markets. As production has grown so too has the interest of major retailers such as Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA.
“Early on we were growing quite a lot for wholesale market and then in the last ten years chain stores would directly approach us and ask us to grow a certain supply. So now we’re a bit more knowing of what we need to grow and where it is going,” Connie said.
To stay on schedule, Taylor Family Produce employs a total of 43 permanent full-time employees. During peak season, staff numbers can reach more than 200 including contractors.
They source a lot of their backpackers from a hostel in town that holds a strict rule of no alcohol and drugs on the premises.
“As a safety thing, for us, that’s a great big tick. It’s been working well because they bring the backpackers to wherever we require on any given farm in the morning and we transition them through the day as we need them,” Connie said.
Along with being a significant source of job creation for Stanthorpe, the Taylors regularly sponsor a variety of community events including the recent Apple and Grape Festival. They also donate any of their rejected produce to Foodbank which provides food relief for countless charities and schools in Australia.
“It’s good to give back,” Ray says. “The district’s been good to me so I give back in any way I can by sponsoring events financially or offering up my equipment.”
No matter how big their operation gets, the Taylors have not forgotten the community that got them there in the first place.
To this day, Ray still gets a thrill out of working out in the blocks and growing the best vegetables he can for consumers.
“I love growing a crop that’s close to being perfect, and getting the markets ringing you back saying we love it and we’re paying premium price. Obviously there’s a financial reward in it but it’s not always about the money, it’s about self-achieving goals and pushing boundaries. There’s a little bit of that in me I suppose.”
Taylor Family Produce is featured in the May 2018 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.
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By Sam Allen-Ankins