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The Ipswich region, which includes the newly amalgamated City of Ipswich and the Shires of Esk, Laidley, Gatton and Boonah, on the western outskirts of Brisbane, has traditionally had a diverse mix of industrial and rural industries. The region was one of the first free-settled areas in Queensland and has had a strong employment base.
Unfortunately, in recent times, the region has experienced significant structural changes with the loss of many of the traditional activities in the mining and industrial areas of activity. At the same time, there has been an influx of people seeking a rural lifestyle on small blocks of land, which had previously been used for farming land.
Unemployment is a significant issue in a number of areas in the region and there is limited scope for people to gain employment in the contracting local industry base. This has prompted a number of initiatives including the investigation of new industry options for the region.
The Ipswich Regional Development Corporation (IRDC) analysed the situation and identified a number of potential alternatives for the best use of the region's resources. This included the potential of native wildflower growing for export markets to fill seasonally-based supply gaps and the potential for herb growing.
Public meetings were organised to determine community interest and two outcomes were achieved. Some landholders with land and capital resources are growing wildflowers in conjunction with other cash crops and a herb-growing group has been established. The latter group is based at the Lockyer and Brisbane valley Enterprise Centre, a business 'incubator' operated by the IRDC at Lowood.
The members recognised that individually, they lacked knowledge and experience but sought to use the shared knowledge of the group. In this way, each member does not have to 're-invent the wheel' to be successful. IRDC was also involved, in a facilitation and coordination role and accessed some Federal Government funding to support the group in the establishment phase.
The group, through membership fees, subsidised the cost of two members to attend a Practical Herb Growing Course offered by Herb Farms Australia at Clunes, in northern New South Wales. The information from this course added significantly to the group's limited knowledge of both growing techniques and the market place.
A related issue which also became apparent, was the need for growers to have their properties certified to organic standard through one of the five certification bodies. This was essential for medicinal herb production and desirable for culinary herbs, especially those to be used for processing. As a result, the group became a member of the Organic Herb Growers of Australia, in order to benefit from the knowledge offered by that organisation and to provide better access for members to the certification requirements.
However, it became increasingly obvious that there was little market knowledge available and that this information was required to determine what should be grown and for what market. IRDC was able to obtain some Federal Government funding to employ a consultant to undertake an assessment of twenty medicinal herbs which were adapted to the region and which had significant market volume and value.
These were then subjected to a literature search in conjunction with the New Crops Project at the University of Queensland Gatton College. This information was combined with a PLANTGRO analysis to produce a report identifying cultural information relating to each species and its suitability to three climatic zones and four soil types within the target area (Brisbane to Toowoomba). This information not only provided the group with a sound basis for plantings for the medicinal herb market but also some relevant information for other markets.
Some group members and two project officers from the IRDC attended the Second Herb Growers Conference at Tocal in the Hunter Valley. This meeting provided a host of useful information on herbs and an appreciation of players in the market. The conference presented the opportunity to develop a network of industry contacts which will be valuable in the future. It became very clear that value-adding to the grown product was a key to success along with the need for good contacts in the market network. It also highlighted that a number of successful operators were heavily involved in the tourism aspects of herb growing.
The group became incorporated late in 1995 as Herb Growers South East QLD (HGSEQ) and a sub-group was formed at Meringandan, just north of Toowoomba. This group meets separately but there are some members who attend both meetings. Joint meetings are held twice yearly as well as joint special events of common interest. The benefit of this is that it gives the group a range of complementary climatic and soil types, permitting a greater range of product and growing seasons.
A drying business has been established in the 'incubator' at Lowood. This facility can dry herb product for growers and is seen as a real competitive advantage for the group.
The drought, which has been described as the worst this century, recently broke with massive flooding so many of the members' plantings have been lost. As a result of these hardships, the group is now smaller than previously, but now probably has a more committed membership.
The group is currently looking at developing a commercial tourist outlet. The members have developed a business plan and product is being sold, mainly as potted herb.
Once incorporation was achieved, the HGSEQ took over the running of its own affairs. IRDC remains a member and continues to facilitate to group, as required. IRDC provides support and new market contacts, access to government funding where possible, assists in producing newsletters and provides the monthly meeting venue at Lowood, as well as an office for a point-of-contact for members and the general public.
It has not been an easy experience in developing a new industry in the region. The task has been made more difficult by the serious drought and floods. There was a limited knowledge base in the industry which itself is relatively small at present, importing around 80% of its products. The herb industry is also tightly controlled by a few major players. In spite of this, Herb Growers South East Queensland is progressing steadily.
Footnote: Ipswich Regional Development Corporation Ltd is a non-profit community-based organisation fostering economic development in the region. It was born through a perceived need in the community for an organisation to assist, network and facilitate development in the region in a co-ordinated manner.
Any claims made by authors in the Australian New Crops Newsletter are presented by the Editors in good faith. Readers would be wise to critically examine the circumstances associated with any claims to determine the applicability of such claims to their specific set of circumstances. This material can be reproduced, with the provision that the source and the author (or editors, if applicable) are acknowledged and the use is for information or educational purposes. Contact with the original author is probably wise since the material may require updating or amendment if used in other publications. Material sourced from the Australian New Crops Newsletter cannot be used out of context or for commercial purposes not related to its original purpose in the newsletter
Contact: Dr Rob Fletcher, School of Land and Food, The University of Queensland Gatton College, 4345; Telephone: 07 5460 1311 or 07 5460 1301; Facsimile: 07 5460 1112; International facsimile: 61 7 5460 1112; Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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originally created by:GK; latest update 6 June 1999 by: RF