Brothers, Tony and Nick Gibb, are the Gibb Bros, a third-generation vegetable farming business based in South East Queensland. The brothers own fertile farming land in two regions: the Fassifern Valley and the Darling Downs, near Toowoomba. The areas have very different climates, which means they can grow a consistent and quality supply of vegetables twelve months a year. In the hot summer months, the Gibb Bros wind down their farm at Peak Crossing and focus on growing in Toowoomba, while in the cooler months, their farm in the Scenic Rim is in full swing. The brothers primarily grow varieties of lettuce and cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, silverbeet, pak choy and kale. (www.gibbbros.com.au)
Can you tell us about Gibb Bros and how you started?
We’re a third-generation primary producer. We grew up in the Stanthorpe area, and bought farms here in the Fassifern Valley twenty years ago. My brother and I started this business in 1997, and we’ve just kept growing and growing since then.
What do you grow?
Celery, lettuce and all of the lettuce varieties, cabbage and cabbage varieties, wombok, cauliflower, broccoli and silverbeet.
It looks like a sizeable operation.
We’re a considerable size, probably on the larger scale of primary production in horticulture. Probably about 350 acres under crop. I mean, there’s more land, probably nearly a thousand acres here, but about 350 under crop, and we crop twice a year.
Who do you sell to?
We service the hospitality industry, the food service industry and also we send vegies to the markets in Rocklea.
Do you enjoy the farming lifestyle?
It is good. We are always busy. We have another farm in Toowoomba — another 400 acres up there, which is all summer production. So, right at this point, we’re slowing down down here, and winding up up there. It is busy and it’s a good lifestyle, but it has its challenges. A lot of storms around at the moment.
What are your thoughts about organic produce?
Organic is a growth part of the produce market, but is a very small part. Most people are price conscious — about ninety-five per cent of people. It is only the diehard organic consumers that buy it. It is not the everyday person that rocks in and thinks, ‘I might buy some organic broccoli today.’ It is a small market, but people are becoming more aware. They are becoming more conscious. That’s why organics is growing, but it is a very small market.
Do you eat your own vegies?
I have two kids, and we, our family, are traditional salad eaters in the summer and vegie eaters in the winter. But I think everyone is starting to experiment a bit more with cooking. We’re selling a lot more red cabbage than we used to. People are becoming more conscious about their health and what they put in their mouths, and these cooking shows have really inspired consumers to experiment with cooking. I think people invite people over for dinner and show off with their cooking, rather than going out. I see that now with friends, and things like red cabbage and the lines that weren’t a big part of our mix years ago are more popular now.
We grow — not here but in Stanthorpe — we grow baby broccoli. Now, it is a commodity like cauliflowers and broccoli. My wife makes a cauliflower and beetroot tabouli, using raw cauliflower instead of cracked wheat. I reckon our family consumes 200% more beetroot than we used to. We eat beetroot three times a week, now, especially in the winter. We bake it, make beetroot salads … I think that’s from the cooking shows as well as for health reasons.
Are you eating as much meat?
I love meat. We probably eat red meat three times a week, with chicken or fish on the other nights.
Is there anything you’d specifically like to tell us about the farm?
We are price takers not price setters. If you build this table you can put a price on it for $300. If we produce a pallet of lettuce, we’ve got to put it to the market and cop whatever the market is. So, we can’t get any more money for our produce. So, we’re looking at the other end of our business for where to save money. We’re looking at innovation, new technology, new varieties, saving water … Water is a big thing for us, a massive thing. The more water we can save, the less we have to pump. It costs to pump water. It costs to get it out of the ground, out of Moogerah. Our main focus is quality and looking at our costs, because we can’t put a price on what we sell. We just have to sell at what the market is. So, we’re really focused on where we can cut costs in our business, and be smarter and more innovative.
Some weeks we pay one hundred staff. There’s super, workers’ comp and all that — you can imagine the costs. It is a very fine margin between making a profit and not making a profit. So, we really have to be on the ball. Every morning, when we get up and pull our boots on, we have to go as hard as we can. You can’t take your foot off the pedal. We employ a lot of people, especially in the Fassifern Valley, but we have to really watch our expenses as they can get out of control very, very easily.
People think, you know, farmers have a nice lifestyle, and it is great. It is a good lifestyle. You’re working outdoors most of the time. I market all the stuff, so I am not on the farm as much as my brother. But, sometimes, it is pretty scary when the prices are down. It normally means you’ve got a lot of product, so you are cutting more and you are harvesting more. So, the expenses are high, and your turnover’s down, and it can be tough for months on end. Then, like at the moment, things are pretty good. It is the change of season and the weather is starting to settle down. It is harder to grow lettuce in the summer. We grow them in Toowoomba, but it is hot and it is harder to grow them. Generally the price is better, though.
How do you cope with the heat out here?
We don’t grow anything here in the summer. We just grow a couple of cover crops and plough it back into the ground. Then we finish harvesting here in about the last week of November, and we start planting in the first week of February. We harvest from pretty much May till November, with a month either side.
It is a challenge.
We’ve just put solar on our machinery shed here, to eliminate our power costs here and in Toowoomba. Not a big saving — we’ll save about $25,000 a year off our power bill — but in three years that solar will have paid for itself. And then, the money we’ve spent on our solar, we’ll be making about twenty-five per cent on our money. It is small stuff. But if you do ten things like that, it adds up to a lot of money. They’re the extremes we’re having to go to to make sure our bottom line is above the line, not below the line. It is probably commonsense, which was bred into us as kids.
It is pretty scary doing things on such a big scale …
Yes, it is. And that’s why we have a good business with systems in place. We make sure everyone is cross-trained and can step into another person’s shoes.
Do you and Tony have job descriptions?
Not really. We know Tony’s job is to grow it and to plan what we’re growing. Between us, we work out what I think we can sell and what we’ve got orders for, and that’s what we grow. We have invisible job descriptions, I guess. You just know what you have to do.
Do you and your brother get along?
Yes! Ha! We get along. I guess we wouldn’t be in business if we didn’t.