Lockyer Valley farming family finding their niche

Sharron Windolf from Windolf Farms in front of a broccoli crop in the Lockyer Valley.
Sharron Windolf from Windolf Farms in front of a broccoli crop in the Lockyer Valley. Amy Lyne

WINDOLF Farms boasts a young ownership and a niche product that is giving the farm stability and growth.

The farm's parsnip crop is currently being grown and harvested along with broccoli and lettuce on farms in the Lockyer Valley, where they also grow potatoes, pumpkin and watermelon.

The farm is owned by Sharron and Paul Windolf, Jillian and Jayson Windolf and Brendon and Catherine Windolf, who took over the farm in 2008 from the previous generation.

"We consider ourselves fairly normal, but we are probably unique in the sense we are relatively young in our ownership structure. From 37 years old to 44 years old,” Sharron said

"It just gives us stability as a business in the marketplace.”

Windolf Farms covers about 404.7ha (1000 acres) across the Lockyer Valley, including Gatton , Placid Hills, Tenthill and the home base at Upper Tenthill.

The decision to include a niche product came from wanting to utilise existing infrastructure.

"Parsnips are probably a niche product but they fit with what we do here,” Sharron said.

"They are very labour intensive and they are a challenge to grow so they do take a lot skill and dedication.

"We basically started because we already had infrastructure in place with our packing facility with hydra coolers that we could utilise.

Sharron said growing parsnips was also able to give employees continual work, with the farm hiring between 50 to more than 100 workers depending on the season.

They also grow lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, watermelons and pumpkins. The parsnips account for less than 10% of the business.

The parsnips are sold into markets, fruit stores and restaurants while the other produce is sold into supermarkets, the domestic market and also some export markets.

"We do a little bit of export, we have done that for about eight or nine years with broccoli into Singapore,” Sharron said.

"It has been a good thing. We are just taking a little bit out of what we grow already and finding a different market for it.

"We have had an ongoing export business, which has been good. The dollar has an effect on it, so export is really good at the moment because of the dollar and if it stays that way it will be a good thing.”

Sharron said while there had been no problems on the farm recently and the weather had been kind, it was important to realise that every year was different.

"Even the market trends. While some lines in the fruit and vegetable industry have been quite popular in recent years, they may not be as popular the next,” she said.

"Like anything you have got to have strong customer relationships and that's a really important factor. It's all about relationships whether you are dealing with a supermarket or market agent, it is about that honest and open relationship we have with them.

"But there is definitely people placing more value in food and the safety of our food and that's something that we are passionate about. About food safety and food quality.” Sharron said she was sure agriculture and in particular horticulture had a bright future.

"Someone has got to feed the country and unfortunately we are getting fewer and fewer,” Sharron said.

"We will deal with things as they arise. We are very open and honest with each other and communication is important.”

Sharron said they had spoken about succession in the farm, but the main factor was whether people wanted to be involved in the industry, that going for their own children as well.

"There is no expectation that they have to be involved, they are aged from 19 down to six so there is a long way to go there,” she said.

"So when we get to that point, like we were in our early 30s when you know that is what you want to do, we will look at that.”

"We will continue to be open with one another and right now enjoy running our business.”

Topics:  agriculture farm lockyer valley toowoomba

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