Andrew Bayley admits to a momentary ‘Oh God, what have I done now?’ panic on day one of his newly installed, computerised and highly complex wood burning boiler. This Austrian designed system generates heat from waste wood. Hot water is then piped to warm hectares of under-cover hydroponic tomatoes on the Yarragon farm.
It is one of many state of the art components of intensive vegetable farming. The Bayleys’ ‘Blackwood Park’ specialises in cherry truss tomatoes. Grafted tomato stock are nurtured, pruned, trained and provided with the optimum growth requirements needed to produce rapidly. Vine ripened tomatoes are picked eight to ten weeks from planting.
Each elongated plant continues growth for up to ten months, producing uniform, healthy trusses of twelve cherry tomatoes each truss. These are marketed through Flavorite Tomatoes in Warragul.
Together with the dairy, the hot houses employ around thirty staff, a number being originally from the Philippines and Taiwan, but many locals also find employment on the property.
The innovations and growth of both enterprises have tested the Bayleys’ sense of risk and innovation, generated work for local industries such as engineering and trucking, and have ultimately delivered Gippsland products to markets as far as Hong Kong.
Food production on this scale demands efficiencies and focus. At the same time it shares the fundamentals driving all farmers – need for markets, pest and disease prevention, reliable water and sunshine, and balanced plant nutrients. Hydroponics also require sustained levels of carbon dioxide and humidity. Andrew ensures the adequacy and constancy of the growing environment in the large plastic and glass hot houses.
With Andrew and Angela starting in dairying, being the fourth generation on their farm, not only did they diversify from cattle to tomatoes, but gradually acquired more land as neighbouring properties became available. The dairy, currently supplying Fonterra, relies on a 44 stand rotary milker. Given the crisis with milk prices, the Bayleys are more than pleased that they have their tomatoes.
Women on Farms members who attended this farm visit were generally astounded by the sophistication and ambition of the enterprise. At the same time, they felt proud that such farming success is in their local area.