Meet the farmers: Neil and Tanya Richards

Meet Food Connect's citrus heroes, Neil and Tanya Richards of the Big Orange out at Gayndah. Neil and Tanya have supplied to Food Connect since 2012, here is some more information on how and why they farm regeneratively!

Location: Gayndah (Wakka Wakka)

What do they produce?
Citrus including Mandarins, Oranges, Grapefruit, Lemonade Fruit, Lemons and Blood Oranges. They also make our own juices and other goods for sale in the Big Orange cafe store.

What methods and philosophies do they use?
Neil sees himself as an ethical farmer who does only what is necessary to maintain a healthy farm rather than what is conventionally "needed". He is on a path to be fully organic in the next couple of years - each year new goals are ticked off. Regular use of Microbes cuts down nitrogen needs by 30%. The biggest challenges are weed control and pest control. A combination of mulch and mature trees has drastically reduced weeds, the mulch is sourced from local green waste. Neil uses spot spraying only while young trees are maturing.

Pests are many and varied, in the orchard fruit fly can be a big issue during warmer months. These are dealt with by monitoring in traps. If numbers increase Neil uses a yeast lure and bait spray on tree trunks if necessary. He also uses a beneficial bug for gall wasp from Bugs for Bugs.

Some bugs like moulds and fungi are too small too see which is why Neil keeps a clean orchard and aims for nutrient dense fruit that is picked fresh and regularly. However they can still be a challenge post-harvest as no fungicides or waxes are used to control them.

When, how and why did Neil become a farmer?

Neil was a pro fruit picker for many years, travelling the Australian circuit. He could make good money until the influx of backpackers came in and returns to pickers decreased. He was picking in the Gayndah region and heard the Big Orange was for sale. He wasn't getting any younger and the body needed a rest so he jumped at the opportunity.

What does a typical day look like?

Tanya looks after the Big Orange cafe and shop while Neil looks after the farming and off-farm sales. Days start early with picking always coming first while the fruit is cool. It then moves onto jobs like pruning, slashing and thinning. When the shop gets busy Neil is on call to help Tanya out at a moments notice.

Weekends are busy packing fruit for Food Connect as well as in the shop. Looking after irrigation lines and watering is also important and takes up two days per week. Of course there is always plenty of paperwork, more so since turnover is triple compared to when they started.

Why do they choose to work with Food Connect?
Neil loves the alignment with Food Connect's ecological agriculture philosophy as he continues on the path of being fully organic. He is more than happy to be able to supply fruit that is not dipped or waxed. Best of all he has no wastage as Food Connect takes virtually the whole pick either as 1st grade; smalls or juicing grade.