In 2014 Nellie Lane, then in book keeping, and her husband Trevor, a diesel mechanic, gave up their day jobs to follow their farming dream. They purchased property in Dimbulah, Queensland, and now grow papaya, as well as citrus.
“We’ve been picking for less than 12 months so we’re very new to the papaya industry. While it definitely has its challenges, I think we’re doing alright for first-timers,” Nellie said.
Nellie grew up farming and, as well as her experience on the family citrus farm to draw from, she and Trevor have been lucky to be able to call on Nellie’s uncle, Papaya Australia’s Gerard Kath, for advice. “My father also grew red papaya for a few years,” Nellie said.
Nellie and Trevor are currently picking 2.5 hectares of papaya and have planted another 2.5. They’re also growing 1500 lime trees on the farm, which is 44 hectares overall.
The pair intend to plant new papaya trees every six months, totalling 2.5 hectares a year, to keep production going. “We’re eventually going to run out of room to plant, so we’ll probably look at leasing or, when we make our millions, buy next door!”
Nellie said the first year of production was particularly challenging, and is eager to see more support and educate growers trying to establish themselves.
“When we first started we felt very isolated and cut off from the industry. We had this rot inside the fruit when we first started picking and Trevor was pulling his hair out trying to find someone who could talk to us about it,” Nellie said.
“The rot went away and then we had a problem with fruit breaking down due to a fungus, but Trevor was all over it. He was talking every day to the agents and he trialled different post-harvest fungicides and cleaned the whole shed. For the past few weeks we haven’t had a single piece of fruit fail. I’m pretty proud of him, especially considering he has only been farming for two years.”
Nellie said finding people to work on the farm has also been hard, but the couple are in the process of building on-site accommodation to help change this.
“We’re two hours west of Cairns and 15km from the closest town, which is basically a pub. If backpackers or anyone looking for work doesn’t have transport, that rules them out. There’s no accommodation. It’s been a real battle to find good people who will stick around,” Nellie said.
“Very soon the mango season starts and everyone just leaves and chases the money. We try and make it nice for them to work here and give them a reason to come out here. Hopefully the accommodation will make it easier for us.”
Nellie said there has been a conscious effort from the papaya industry as far as marketing and researching new varieties.
“The red papaya industry is growing and getting a bigger name. They are far more liked and well known. We grow the RB1 variety and at the moment they’re being really good to us. In the last few years a lot of effort and research has gone into breeding the new varieties.”
Trevor recently attended the National Biological Farming Conference and Expo in Cairns. “He said it was amazing and drove home the need to make a conscious effort about what we’re leaving behind for our kids,” Nellie said. “Afterwards we released some live beneficial insects into the trees so that the good bugs can eat the bad bugs, which reduces the need to spray. This was in an effort to control fruitspotting bug, which is a big problem.”
Nellie and Trevor are determined to have good relationships with agents and customers, and see a bright future in the industry. “We just want to make a good name for ourselves and send quality fruit rather than focus on quantity. We want Trevellie Farming to mean quality fruit.”