For nearly a century, the Moffatt family has tilled the rich, alluvial soil of the Fassifern Valley in Tarome to bring top-quality, fresh food to the tables of Australian families. The business is now one of the country’s largest suppliers of carrots and onions. Scott Moffatt and Company are committed to sustainable farming practices and employ natural farming systems, which require minimal chemicals and fertilisers. They respect their fertile soils, free of contaminents, and an abundant supply of pristine water, so as to provide Aussie families with ‘fresh, clean and green’ veg. Steve Moffatt is a fourth-generation farmer, who is proud of his heritage. He now heads the business and feels optimistic about the future of farming in Australia and the Scenic Rim. (www.moffattcarrots.com.au)
Steve, tell us about Moffatt Fresh Produce.
It is a fourth-generation family business, and we have the fifth generation coming up as well, which is good. They are the future of our farming business. We grow and pack around about 25,000 to 26,000 tonne of carrots every year, year-round. We have a domestic as well as an export business, with the South East Asia market central. Our customers love to know the fact that everything is 100% covered, from paddock to plate, with a strict quality assurance program in place. We can assure our customers that our product is the best they can get for their family.
We have been here since 1924. My great-grandfather and my grandfather started farming and share-farming here, and they progressively bought more land as they went. Now, we farm over a diverse growing region, from as far away as the Lockyer Valley, the Southern Downs and Stanthorpe. But, absolutely, the Scenic Rim is the major hub for our operation.
We grow carrots and onions. We do about 7000 tonne of onions within the Queensland growing window, which runs from harvest in October through to the end of January or early February.
It is something that has been kind to us. We are good at it. We have a philosophy here: we have in the past diversified — growing different crops — but we have always come back to our core, and that is carrots and onions. I think it is important because that is what we’re good at. We manage 100% of the chain: we grow it, we pick it, we pack it, we freight it. There is not one part of our operation that a family member doesn’t touch. The carrots grow quite well in these kind conditions — alluvial creek-soil flats. And it is just something our forefathers, thankfully, started growing, and we’ve just attached ourselves to that kind of farming.
These days, we progressively get better and better at what we do. We never stop trying. I guess that is that reason we are always introducing new ideas, but we still maintain a lot of the older, more traditional ways of farming at the same time. We add a little bit of science, but we don’t forget where we come from.
How do you manage the soil?
We work on a rotation. So, we might be working on a three-year crop rotation. That means we won’t go back on the same country inside three years with a crop of carrots. There is a reason for that: we are trying to eliminate soil-borne diseases through rotation. We are also putting in different cover crops in between those, say, carrot to carrot crops. It may be a bean crop or an oat crop, which is always putting a little bit of microbial activity back into the soils. If we are not careful and if we don’t manage our crop rotation, we won’t have the name that we do in the business, of being one of the best.
I am quite lucky and privileged that my great-grandfather had the foresight to settle in this valley because we have the best backdrop in the world. It features in most of our media, if we get the opportunity, whether it be on Facebook or doing things like our portfolio, which we push through to our customers so they have a snapshot of what we do and a short story, if you like.
Who in the family is involved in the business?
My father and my uncle have remained in the business, behind the scenes in less active roles. They can come and go as they please, as is their right. We’re happy for them to have a sense of belonging to the business, and they’ve made way for myself and my brother, and my cousin, Mitch, as the three directors of the business.
So, my role, here in the business, is the chief of operations, the CEO. In farming terms, I suppose I am the boss. My cousin, Mitch, handles and oversees all of the farming operation. Then we have a team of guys below us — there are forty-eight full-time staff on the books, here. We really are only as good as the people we have working for us, so we are quite fortunate to have those people involved in the business. That is largely a big part of the success of our business.
We also run beef cattle and we have a small hay business on the side. My brother manages that, and he’s very involved in the onion processing when that time comes around, which is quite a busy time for us. Obviously, cramming 7000 tonne of onions in such a short window … Then, my wife is the head of admin here, and we have a team of five ladies who are in the administration side of the business, ranging from quality assurance through to accounting.
It is so vitally important that we understand our business, not just hope for the best and hope for the pay cheque to be there at the end of the day. We try to do a lot of analysing of how the outcomes of the business should be, rather than hope for the best. That is the way it is, these days. It is a good thing. The wheel has been in motion for a long time. At the same time, we are managing succession and run a farming operation that feeds all of the east coast of Australia, coupled with our export business that goes into South East Asia.
Do you want to grow the export side of the business?
Only if we have the capability to maintain the standard we have now. What I mean by saying that is, potentially, if we bite off more than we can chew, the last thing we want is our customers to be dissatisfied. For now, the business has gone through a large growing phase and we’re comfortable with the volumes that we’re growing now.
What we’d like to do, moving forward, is to keep getting better by putting a bit more science into what we do, and by maintaining that high standard that we have for our customers. The export market is very healthy in Australia; particularly in horticulture — there’s quite a buzz. There has been some great initiatives by the Australian Government to help that along through Austrade. Our industry body, AUSVEG, has also played a large role in making sure that we have access to some of the customers we may not have known were there.
So, family and your family’s proud farming history in the region are core to the business?
We are very traditional. We are fairly conservative and we do tend to fly under the radar because it is not in our natures to put ourselves out there that much. But, something that is close to our hearts, although we trade as Moffatt Fresh (or the business is Moffatt Fresh Produce), we also trade as Scott Moffatt and Co, and, for myself, that means a lot because that was my late grandfather. If it wasn’t for him, none of this would be possible. He sacrificed so much for the family to make sure this all came about. He passed away four days after my sixteenth birthday. He was like my best mate. He was a very humble man, quick-witted, and he had a dry sense of humour. As a farmer, he was meticulous and he was always thinking ahead, rather than dwelling on the past.
As farmers, in 2011 and 2013 we were nearly washed off the map, and then just recently, we were nearly washed off the map again. So, I think Scotty built a resilient gene in us. We look into the eyes of adversity and we call it character-building. We don’t dwell too much on things. We might get kicked around, but then we just get stuck back into it.
There are a lot of people relying on this to work. There are forty-eight families who, not only dedicate their work life to us, we are relying on those guys to keep the operation running at the same time. We do look at it as a big family and it is important this works.
It is not just the forty-eight guys that work for us; it goes right through the Scenic Rim. It is the services that provide for us as a business and the services that provide for the forty-eight families as well. We are just so fortunate to live in the best region in Australia with the best Council.
I think there is a very bright future in farming for generations to come. I think the nation’s people can be rest-assured they are getting the best product, particularly from the Scenic Rim.