Local farmers creating value from waste

A sugar cane farming family on the Gold Coast has found a way to do well by doing less.

As the farming community shrinks along the South East Queensland corridor, the Keith family, who are based at Woongoolba and own Rocky Point, were constantly wondering ‘what next’ to keep their land and turn a profit. They have now diversified their business practice and offer a range of sustainable garden supplies for all home garden projects including organic gardening, potting plants, fruit and vegetable growing, suppressing weeds and more!

Local farmers have been doing it tough over the past ten years but recently published research by a team from QUT and Griffith University has unearthed a potential antidote to the problem.

Simply shifting investment decisions around equipment and processing could avoid future mill and farm closures in the state’s southeast.

Lead-researcher Ms Savindi Caldera, a doctoral researcher from QUT, said the findings showed that through strategically applying ‘lean and green thinking’, farmers could make the most of precious capital and ongoing expenditure. Lean and green thinking is an integrated approach focussing on resource optimisation and promoting activities to “do more with less”.

Lars Hall, Business Development Manager at Rocky Point, knows that this type of targeted lean and green thinking has been a farm-saving intervention for the Keith family, helping them identify the appropriate tools to reduce waste and non-value adding activities and actually do well by doing less.

“We have realised that to complement our sugarcane farming, we can recycle urban waste destined for landfill, collecting pallets and crates and recycling them to produce ‘urban timber mulch’ which we then sell for use on gardens,” he said.

Co-researcher Associate Professor Cheryl Desha, of Griffith University’s Cities Research Institute, and Board Member of the Energy Efficiency Council, said the findings had implications for all farmers battling rising operating costs.

“Rather than buying into what’s popular or relying on sales reps, farmers can now directly see which types of resourcing and energy efficiency tools and programs best suit them, depending on their priorities.”

Co-researcher Professor Les Dawes, of QUT’s Institute of Future Environments, also sees this type of research collaboration as critical to contributing to operational efficiencies and value adding to farmers.

As recognition of Rocky Point’s diversification of farming practice and sustainability focus the family won the prestigious 2016 Australian Farmer of the Year.

Savindi and her research colleagues have recently published this work in the International Journal of Cleaner Production, as well as two international conferences in Europe.