News Article

Building relationships in South Gippsland

   Friday 6th December, 2019

Gippsland is a diverse and large region that from end to end is about an eight hour drive – and to put it in perspective, when you’re on the Princes Highway and you go past the sign for Lindenow in East Gippsland, you’re at the half way mark!

This does not deter us in getting out and about though, with the Food & Fibre Gippsland Operations Team regularly meeting face to face with people all over the region.

Last week, Acting CEO Dr. Nicola Watts and Communications & Engagement Manager Jody O’Brien spent a few days in South Gippsland, catching up with businesses and industry partners – meeting lots of new people and reacquainting with a number of familiar faces.

Some reflections on the trip from Nicola..

There are certainly lots of great things going on in food & fibre in South Gippsland – including clear links to continuous growth in culinary tourism.

It was a great opportunity to formally and informally meet with a range of key groups including South Gippsland Shire Council, Bass Coast Landcare, the Growing South Gippsland group and the Prom Coast Food Collective.

Visits like this are a vital ingredient in our engagement activity to support shared understandings of the needs, aspirations and challenges of Gippsland food and fibre businesses, and where F&FG can continue to best add-value.

It was a great reminder of our regional diversity and membership - from a large dairy processor - Burra Foods in Korumburra to a small organic pig and beef cattle farmer, Lee Stothi from Ferndale Organics in Kongwak.

We spent some time with Lee at her property where she has free range pigs and black angus cattle, and it was great to see and hear about her passion for improving soil health and grass quality.

We caught up with one of our newest members, South Gippsland Dairy in Korumburra who have recently launched an innovative bovine bio colostrum product and are working hard on growing awareness and sales after a three-year journey designing a production process.

We enjoyed a guided driving tour of Schreurs & Sons recently established large horticultural operation in Middle Tarwin. Schreurs continue to invest in further growth in Gippsland to meet increased demand for their produce.

The design principles of their vegetable growing operation to work in harmony with the natural environment were very impressive – as was their application of agtech.

We could have quite easily spent several hours there hearing and seeing more – but we will save that for the next visit!

I was really impressed with the very strong focus on soil health across South Gippsland and this was evident on a number of farm visits.

The Soil Carbon Day facilitated by Bass Coast Landcare at Prom Country Cheese was an excellent forum that was very well attended with a very strong mix of highly engaged people from government, researchers, industry and community.

The link to soil health was enhanced for me as I had sat in on an impressive presentation on Wednesday morning from Dr Ben Wills of Federation University Business School.

Ben has been doing some interesting research across a diverse range of stakeholders including banks and valuers, around attributing better value to soil health.

There are many common issues faced by food and fibre businesses of all sizes, it’s just the scale that varies.

These include training and workforce development, access to new markets, logistics, provenance validation, value-adding, waste and environmental sustainability. Yes, they’re big issues, but they also align very well with current Food & Fibre Gippsland projects and partnerships, and others in the pipeline.

Thank you to everyone for their warm welcomes and generously giving their time. Whilst many of the people I engaged with are already well known to me, it was great to meet with new ones for the first time.

We also appreciated plenty of enthusiastic discussion and ideas around how F&FG could work with key organisations (including local government) and collaborative networks to support:

• more seamless engagement with industry
• better linkages across existing initiatives
• identification and responsiveness to key gaps
• better clarity around who is doing what, and
• (where appropriate) taking local issues up to the regional level – particularly to support transformative projects, and advocacy and connectivity at state and national levels.

So, with a mission to be a collaborative force - joining the dots and creating change that leads to greater regional prosperity - Food & Fibre Gippsland is looking forward to a busy start to the New Year as we work on scheduling visits/engagements across all other parts of Gippsland.

As we launch into a new decade, 2020 is set to be a challenging but inspirational time for Gippsland as we continue to encourage innovation and collaboration across this vast region we are all lucky to call home.