The Taylor family have a big investment in this project – about $1.5M – so they are committed to it for the long term. Like many family operations, they have an eye on the next generation. Ray and Connie have two sons, aged 17 and 14. “While our eldest son will eventually come back to the farm, we’re not sure about our youngest,” Connie said. “It’s good that they want to go out and experience the world first though.”
Connie and Ray met and married on the Granite Belt. Connie is a Stanthorpe local, but Ray grew up in Brisbane, on a large farm in Redland Bay. They still have that farm, the last one in the area, making them the last farmers in Redland Bay. Ray moved to Stanthorpe in 1992, when he was just 21. They were dry times and Stanthorpe was in drought. Ray bought 120 acres, of which five were under crop. In 1995, the Taylors really started farming in earnest with those first five acres. But they’ve come a long way since then. They now have 1400 acres operating for 36 weeks a year. “Although it’s too cold to farm during those other months, water availability will make it possible,” Ray said. To gain access to water, they realised they had to expand, so in 1997, they bought the next farm and then bought a farm each year for the next 10 years. Some years they bought two. While they’ve bought less frequently over the last few years, they’ve focused on bigger properties, boosting their total area to 3500 acres on the Granite Belt.
The Taylor family supplies all the major supermarket chains, including Coles, Woolworths and Aldi. “People need to be fed, If we can’t supply what they need, we know that it comes from overseas or other areas,” Ray said. Their operation is now big enough to be called end-to-end farming. They propagate seedlings on the farm, provide all their own packaging, use all their own transport for local distribution (including their own trucking company) and, finally, have a large machinery business that is primarily for their own use.
During the growing season, the Taylors plant one million seedlings a week. Their crops include iceberg lettuce, broccoli, celery (the biggest growers in Queensland), wombok (the second biggest growers in Queensland), silverbeet and cauliflower. Understandably, the Taylor’s Operation is significant for supply and employment. About half of their produce is contracted to the major supermarkets and they export to Singapore and Hong Kong as well. The rest is “freelance”. Ray said that they employ 47 locals and have up to 180 total employees during the height of the season. “We have a low turnover of staff, which we are proud of. We’re committed to keeping our people employed and giving them job security. Most of them have been with us for a long time, so maybe they stay because we’re too good to them,” he laughs. “Most have their own families, so long-term employment offers security for the district. “We also use backpackers, which is a huge boost to the local economy because they spend locally,” Ray said.
Importance of Water and the Project
For farmers like the Taylors, water means security. The Granite Belt Irrigation Project will give them a reliable supply all year. Connie said that reliability would allow them to make better plans and budgets, which keeps the banks happy. “With consistent water, we can forecast a lot better too. The ups and downs of business should be levelled out at the high point,” she said. “For instance, over the last 12 months, the lower rainfall has reduced our plantings by one-third. It’s hard to keep our business buoyant in these conditions. “But if we have consistent and planned cash flow, and a positive outlook in our business planning, the banks will support us. That’s why we need reliable water supply,” Connie said.
The Taylors are one of the bigger participants in the irrigation project. If the project does not go ahead, they will have to keep buying farms (probably out of the district) to secure the water, just like other farmers. They use the farm in Redland for their winter cropping, but it will be sold in the next five years. They will need to buy the same acreage to ensure ongoing production. If they haven’t got access to water, they will have to buy elsewhere. However, if they had more local water, they could use their local staff more productively. Currently, to hang on to their team over the dry winter months, they give them all sorts of work. With water, they can grow other things in winter, which would make better use of their employees.
Ray said that Taylor Family Produce is committed to supporting local, buying local and employing local as best they can. “While we are committed to building capacity in our local region, keeping our suppliers happy is vital in our business. “As we consider ourselves progressive, we are constantly learning. We regularly do courses and attend seminars and industry events. If you want to keep up with the latest, you’d be crazy not to,” he said. The Taylors love Stanthorpe and feel connected to the community, not least through their employees, watching their families grow and prosper with their business. They consider Stanthorpe a progressive area. This irrigation project is part of the progression and will help secure the future for farmers like Ray and Connie and their children.