Farmer's gamble with beetroot pays dividend with big contract

REAPING REWARDS: Troy Qualischefski from Qualipac with his first season of beetroots at his Glenore Grove farm.
REAPING REWARDS: Troy Qualischefski from Qualipac with his first season of beetroots at his Glenore Grove farm. Rob Williams

BEETROOT growing in the Lockyer Valley is back with Qualipac farm securing a 1000 ton contract to supply leading Australian food manufacturer Simplot.

The cost-cutting decision by Heinz, owners of Golden Circle, to move operations to New Zealand in 2011 came at a massive cost to beetroot farmers in the Lockyer who produced 90% of Australia's crop.

Qualipac co-director Troy Qualischefski said the Lockyer was now "back in the business of supplying processing crops" and the signs were promising that the beetroot contract his company has with Simplot won't be the last.

Qualipac, based near Gatton, grows broccoli, onions, sweet corn, pumpkin and now 40 acres of beetroot for the first time.

The harvesting of the beetroots, which were planted in June and July, started this week with modified potato harvesters.

When the QT visited there were four B-double trucks waiting to take the beetroots away to be tinned.

"This is our first year of growing beetroot," Mr Qualischefski said.

"Once Golden Circle took the production to New Zealand the beetroot industry was shut down in the Lockyer.

"But we have secured some contracts with Simplot, who are based in Bathurst and Echuca, to do some trials with beetroot for processing.

"It is bringing some of these processing markets back to the Lockyer and giving us another marketing avenue for our crop.

"It is not related to the fresh market and not driven by the pricing mechanics of the central market.

"It is a contract price, machine harvested and bulk freighted. It is a low cost business.

"This is a trial, but the reports we are getting back from the company is that the quality is good and the sizing of the beetroots is good.

"All going well I am hoping we are going to do contracts next year for them."

The 2011 and 2013 floods did around $800,000 of damage to Qulipac's business, with the pumpkin crop copping the brunt of it.

"To go from where we were in the floods to where we are now, securing contracts with companies, means we are going forward," Mr Qualischefski said.

"There are is still opportunities in the Lockyer to do processing crops and with the support of Simplot we are making it happen."

Lockyer Valley Mayor Steve Jones said there was a huge potential to grow beetroot in the region again for the fresh market and other markets.

He said the Lockyer Farmers United planned $40 million cannery, which will process beetroot and a variety of other crops, was "still full speed ahead" and would hopefully be operational by the end of next year.

"There were eight to 10 farmers still into beetroot seriously when Golden Circle gave it away," Cr Jones said.

"Some of them are still growing it, but Qualipac seem to be finding all sorts of markets and doing quite well.

"At the time when Heinz bought out Golden Circle and stopped canning beetroot in Brisbane the market disappeared overnight.

"But Qualipac have found an alternate market and that is the sort of thing council has been working with farmers to do."

Topics:  vegetables

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