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Food and beverage stories

Farmer of the year rises from the ashes

Edition 165 Matt Dunbabin ...

Enterprises that rose out of the ashes of the devastating Dunalley bushfire in 2013 have earned local farmer Matt Dunbabin the nation’s 2015 Farmer of the Year title.

As well as the top award, Mr Dunbabin collected the Diversification award as Tasmanians performed strongly in the ABC Rural and Kondinin Farmer of the Year awards in Sydney.

Apiarist Lindsay Bourke took home the Plant Biosecurity Award, while Meander couple Brian and Michele Lawrence shared the Dairy Farmer title.

Mr Dunbabin and his wife, Vanessa, produce wine, wool, crops, beef, sheep and oysters on their picturesque 6,000ha Forestier Peninsula farm, Bangor.

The Dunbabin’s are also turning their hands to tourism, with a new guesthouse that affords visitors access to Bangor’s 35km of coastal frontage and 5,100ha of native forest and wildlife that will soon include a population of released disease-free Tasmanian devils.

Last December, the Dunbabin’s – who both have PhDs – diversified into hospitality with their Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed on the popular tourism route to Port Arthur.

Neighbours, friends and oyster farmers, Tom and Alice Gray, are partners in the business which has already attracted 20,000 visitors.

“It’s definitely a shift for us, but Tassie is really kicking some goals when it comes to our food and wine,” Mr Dunbabin told The Mercury.

“People just love the products we are producing here and they love coming here as well.”

“The products that we offer here, we anticipated and it’s turned out to be the case, that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

“So by being able to draw together two families, with two complementary products, really adds weight to what we can offer.

“As well as the practical side of stepping out from farming, where most jobs can wait until tomorrow, or a lot can … here it’s pretty full on.

“Hospitality takes a lot of work and a lot of time, so being able to share that load is important as well.”

Mr Dunbabin’s PhD is in ecology, genetics and weeds, while Mrs Dunbabin has a PhD in plant modelling.

Vanessa Dunbabin told the ABC she expected the shed to become equal to, if not bigger, than the long-standing farming business.

“Farmers are an inventive lot,” Mr Dunbabin told The Mercury. “I think you have to be to stay in the game.

“You've got to be good at what you do and always looking for an opportunity to improve the way you do things.

“It’s the resource that we’ve got here being next to the highway, you’ve got a good climate for growing grapes, access to good advice, other people growing vines nearby, the passing tourist traffic, a secure water source.

“All the things we needed, the ducks were lined up.”

The district made national headlines in 2013 when one of Tasmania’s worst ever bushfires swept through, wiping out the Dunalley school, many homes, shacks, and farmsteads and isolating residents and visitors on the peninsula for days.

The fire swept across parts of Bangor, singeing the edge of the vineyard and destroying a shearing shed that was to have been a cellar door.

“Being able to get a new business going when so many businesses were lost in Dunalley was something that we were acutely aware of,” Mr Dunbabin said. “That was important to us. We employ 12 or 13 people here, all local people.

Mr Dunbabin follows cherry grower Tim Reid as a Tasmanian winner of the Farmer of the Year award.

Mr Reid, one of Australia’s biggest cherry producers and internationally recognised for his work in opening up Asian markets for Australian horticulture, was successful in 2013.

Beekeeper Lindsay Bourke won the 2015 Biosecurity Farmer of the Year title after being a finalist on three previous occasions.

Mr Bourke is a passionate supporter of the Tasmanian honey industry and said biosecurity had always been one of his priorities.

Meander dairy producers Brian and Michelle Lawrence’s work on their 350ha property, Janefield, earned them the Dairy Farmer of the Year award.

The couple took time out from a busy calving season to attend the award dinner in Sydney.

They bought Janefield nine years ago and converted it from mixed farming to dairy production.

Image courtesy of ABC.

6 October 2015, Edition 165

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