AFTER due consideration, Minter Magic’s Darren Minter and his family have called it a day on the production of asparagus on their Iraak property and will now concentrate their efforts into producing more almonds and citrus.

Last Wednesday marked a sad day for the Minter family on two fronts.

Firstly it was the anniversary of Darren’s father Geoff passing and it was also the last day of asparagus processing and packing on the farm.

The end of an era that commenced back in 1927 had come, and while it was a sad occasion, Darren Minter said he was looking forward to the future.

“I would like especially thank my wife Anne-Marie, family, staff and friends for putting up with me over this difficult time,” he said.

“But now I can’t wait to get that smile back on my face again in this new phase of our lives which I think is going to herald in a bright future.

“After 95 years of the Minter family in Mildura growing and packing asparagus, the decision to exit the sector has been fulfilled.”

Minter Magic has marketed to places throughout Australia and around the world for many decades.

“We stated exporting asparagus in 1973 – 74 to England,” he said.

“The first year was great, the second year was a disaster.

“However, in 1976 we exported to Japan and we have been in that market ever since.

“We also have exported to Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Arab Emirates, Canada, Korea and many other countries.”

At the peak of the asparagus season, Minter Magic employed up to 150 people and Darren said there were fond memories of many enjoyable times.

“The best part for me in the early days was having Australians coming looking for work – down on their luck financially – and giving them a boost up, getting them back on track and moving to full-time work was such a satisfying thing to see,” he said.

“Then that era passed and the backpackers arrived, bringing new life to the shed and fields with big parties and meeting up with them in town – it was a great period and we will miss them all and the people in the industry too.”

Darren said that five producers of asparagus in Sunraysia, of which he is one, have all decided to exit from the production of this crop.

“They are all from the Mildura region and now there are only two producers left in Sunraysia,” Darren said.

“Apart from the labour issues, water cost and compliance, the asparagus industry had come under pressure from Mexico’s exports of the commodity.

“Asparagus coming into the market from Mexico was probably the last straw to break the camel’s back for all of us.

“We have lost our export arm to Mexico.

“They are exporting into Japan, which was a major market for us, and we have been selling to them since 1976 and now the Japanese are preferring the Mexican asparagus.

“They can supply in huge volume.

“If we have a cold snap our ability to supply the volumes required drops enormously. It’s not a stable commodity anymore.”

Darren makes the point that the cost of water, power, and compliance costs – all government costs put against his business – have been crippling.

“You have all of these increased costs and there is nothing you can do about it,” he said.

“I grow plants that extract carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and supply the nation with food and yet I pay the same as everyone else does for their power.

“I think this needs to change.

“As producers, who have thousands of trees that extract carbon from the atmosphere we should be able to receive some form of financial offset and compensation for that.”

As indicated, Minter Magic will now concentrate on producing only almond and citrus crops, of which they already have significant plantings.

Minter’s currently grow 73 hectares (ha) (180 acres) of almonds and in June they will commence planting another 82 ha taking their holding of almonds to more than 155 ha (more than 380 acres).

“We will increase our citrus from 100 ha to 120 ha (almost 300 acres) in September and then the farm will be fully planted again,” Darren said.

“In preparation for this I was in the process of sourcing some more almond tree rootstock and I rang up my tree nurseryman late last year and he said ‘Darren I’ve just had someone cancel 40,000 Garmen rootstock almond trees’.

“I couldn’t believe my luck and I asked him to hold 25,000 trees for me while I organised the finance to purchase them, which he did.

“It was meant to be and confirmed to me that the decision was 100 per cent correct!

“I have designed the irrigation, the tree layout and counts and I’ve redesigned the property layout and so we are ready to plant.

“The young trees I’m getting are quite mature and so they will be yielding an almond crop within three years.”

A member of the Almond Board of Australia, Darren is very confident about the future of the industry in this region.

“The first thing my valuer asked me was why I wasn’t planting citrus,” he said.

“I said that my accountant told me that producing asparagus has about eight variables in it.

“Citrus has three to four variables and almonds just two.

“In today’s day and age, you cannot afford to lose a crop and survive when there isn’t the profit margin in it today like there used to be.

“We have to have crops we know we will get paid for – it’s as simple as that.”

Darren said that being forced out of asparagus production was going to have an impact on the local economy, with the workers not spending what they used to in Mildura.

“During the asparagus harvest I had a payroll of $100,000 a week,” he said.

“That was more than $600,000 dollars that would wash through the local economy and that’s just from me.”

Matriarch of the Minter family, Darren’s mother Betty said that while she is sad it has come to this, the reality was that it had become alltoo-hard to sustain the asparagus business.

“I’ve been telling Darren for sometime now that we needed to phase out of the asparagus production,” she said.

“It’s too hard now just trying to find the workers you need – you just can’t get them anymore, plus all of the other costs and impediments.

“It’s a hard game – it’s the same with all veggies.

“I’ve been involved with the processing and packaging of our asparagus for 60 years and I’m going to go and look after my garden now.

“I’m 76 it’s time I retired!” she said with a chuckle.

– JOHN DOOLEY

 

BELOW: Darren Minter with his mother, Betty Minter, wife Anne-Marie and son, Garry on the last day of production.