COMPARING apples with oranges looks relatively easy against weighing up the merits of the three NSW Farmer of the Year finalists for 2015.
When the judges toured the enterprises last week, they saw production systems for oysters, asparagus, cherries, spinach, beetroot and apples.
This year’s Farmer of the Year finalists, announced on Thursday by NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair, and NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen, highlight entrepreneurial approaches to farming outside the mainstream broadacre cropping and livestock sectors.
In Orange, Fiona and Bernard Hall of Caernarvon Cherry Co have made their orchard and packing facilities a hub for 20 other orchardists around the region, providing them with processing and marketing facilities for cherries and apples.
By expanding their throughput, and extending cherry season by sourcing across a wide geographical area, the Halls have been able to build relationships with major domestic retailers and export customers in more than five countries.
They have also developed a cherry juice, which addresses some of the seasonality issues with cherry production.
At Batemans Bay, Ewan McAsh has built Signature Oysters on top of the Clyde River oyster-farming business co-founded with his father, Kevin.
It provides a collaborative packing and marketing platform that gives small oyster farmers more critical mass and marketing reach. It emphasises oyster provenance, and the McAsh’s are exploring new oyster breeds, like the Angasi, to help chefs highlight oysters on their menus.
Near Cowra, Ed Fagan at Mulyan Farms has harvested technologies and genetics from around the world to build an innovative horticultural enterprise growing the state’s only asparagus, spinach and beetroot.
If that wasn’t complex enough, Mulyan Farms also grows wheat, canola, maize, popcorn and oats; and trades cattle, and breeds and trades fat lambs. And it has a quarry.
The three enterprises were assessed by four judges: Mr Schoen, Brett Fifield of NSW Department of Primary Industries, Tony Williams of SafeWork NSW, and Matthew Cawood, representing The Land.
Their task was to identify one operation that represents “outstanding achievement, focusing on management skills, use of innovation, profitability, environmental sustainability and community involvement”.
Mr Schoen said all the finalists demonstrated agricultural excellence.
“They are facing their challenges, driving innovation in agriculture practices, utilising leading edge technology and unlocking new markets to improve the profitability of their businesses.”
The Farmer of the Year wins a cash prize of $10,000 and runners up receive a $2000 prize. The winner will be announced at a function at NSW Parliament House in December.
The Award is an initiative of NSW Farmers and NSW Department of Primary Industries, with support from The Land, and SafeWork NSW.