August, 2015

Potatoes, often called ‘humble’ but certainly an essential source of food nutrients, were the focus of this farm visit. Along with onions and sheep, grown for fleece and the fat lamb market, as well as agri-tourism, potatoes on the Murphy Farms at Thorpdale are part of a large scale farming success. The diversity of activities reflects a keenness to maximise climate, soil type and market demands.

The Murphy families of Thorpdale are expert potato growers. Val Murphy explained that of the 250 known varieties, they grow up to five, with Golden Delight and Sebago being staples.

WOF members heard how a small dairy made the transition over the decades to this significant enterprise. The acreage grew as neighbouring farms were opportunistically purchased. Apart from the two Murphy families there are also permanent and casual employees. The farm, as it expanded, has contributed to the local economy through work opportunities. Cultivation, planting, irrigating, harvesting, sorting and grading keep quite a team of people busy throughout the year.

Machinery demands a full time mechanic; sheep require a full time stockman and plenty of kelpies! Every ute seemed to have a dog on the back!

For potatoes, the busiest time for harvest and market preparation is January to June. Onions, mainly brown but some Spanish red, are harvested over February and March, stored in large sheds until the potato harvest is complete, then bagged and sold largely through local merchants who supply supermarkets. When onions and potatoes leave the property they mainly go to wholesale markets in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

The sheep are first cross Merino-Southdown-Dorsets, protected from foxes by a number of alpacas. The impressive 3 stand shearing shed was designed Murphy Farms, and built by Phil and Val’s son, Leigh Constructions, with cypress timber felled on the farm. Contract teams come in annually for the shearing. By contrast with the vegetable produce, the fat lambs are sold directly by the Murphys through local farmers markets.

Val was keen to ensure that the WOF visitors left with bags full of onions and potatoes, and with sound advice about storage. Val is an accomplished communicator, with her popular ‘potato tours’ attracting groups from afar.