The Family Business
Image of man holding strawberriesNathan Baronio from Eastern Colour works the farm his parents started 45 years ago.  They have farmed in Stanthorpe all their lives.  Their initial focus was mainly in vegetables, including broccoli and capsicums which were their main lines for a long time, with apples always produced alongside. Nathan said that in the 1980s and early 1990s, they concentrated on broccoli, with farms all over the Granite Belt and northern NSW. “One reason we leased and purchased properties was because they had reliable water. “From 1990 to the late 2000s, our farm expanded significantly.  We grew a significant amount of stonefruit and apples on the main farms, as well as a number of satellite farms all throughout the district and northern NSW growing capsicums and broccoli,” Nathan said.

The family has always produced multiple lines, focusing on crops that have a specific advantage, such as stonefruit, because at the time, stonefruit were market-ready earlier than in the southern states.  However, when southern produce bridged the time gap, the Baronios left that market.  The same thing happened with their production of broccoli. “So currently, about 90 per cent of our business is strawberries, but we have some blackberries and apples for seasonal diversity. “This production mix gives us an income all year.  But we’re looking at other lines, such as raspberries and blueberries, so we can stay on top of the game,” Nathan said.

Water:  “Can’t grow nothin’ without it”
Of their strawberries, 30 per cent are grown hydroponically, with water injected directly to the roots growing in a mulch base via timers.  This method is extremely efficient because it has minimal runoff.  The other 60 per cent are grown in the soil and given water via trickle irrigation which is also very efficient.  Over time, more money will be invested in developing more hydroponic beds to conserve water. Eastern Colour supplies the major supermarket chains in Australia.  To maintain this ability, a steady supply of water is crucial. “Our family is particularly aware of water supply.  In the 90s we were forced to buy a water tanker and transport water between farms in order to keep the crops alive,” Nathan said. “One really bad time in the drought of the early 2000s, we were one week away from running out of water altogether.  We were once told by Wallangarra Council to cease growing in one season so that they could use that water for the township.” It’s no surprise that a high percentage of their business history is wrapped up in chasing water sources to expand or maintain the business.

How the Project will Help Farmers
This irrigation project means security.  Farmers such as Nathan spend millions of dollars producing crops, so they are constantly aware of their water supply options.  It is often a case of working smarter on the farms they’ve got or buying farms that have reliable water. The project will also affect employment on farms.  Presently, Eastern Colour employs 40 people all year round, which is a mix of permanent staff and casual locals.  However, when peak season draws many people into the community for work, this number jumps to 250. A steady and reliable water supply would guarantee jobs for these workers.

Why Stanthorpe?
Stanthorpe is an ideal location for farming.  It has a good mix of the right conditions to build a progressive business with smarter growing practices.  Nathan believes that the region is “right at the footstep of Queensland.  We’re feeding Queensland and driving SEQ growth.  The climate is right, and the altitude – this position on the top of the hill – makes for a cool environment. “We’ve got all those features, but there’s just once exception – a steady and reliable water supply.  From this position at the top of the hill, it’s very hard to capture water,” he said. Nathan feels that Queensland summer fruit should be grown here.  “I reckon the food tastes great because of our perfect conditions.” For Nathan, the tradition of farming Stanthorpe is important.  “I want the family business to stay here – this is where I grew up and the community my family wants to be connected to for generations to come,” he said.