Jurgens jumps at tomato opportunities

Jurgens jumps at tomato opportunities


Horticulture
Bowen tomato grower Jamie Jurgens out in one of his paddocks checking on the health of his plants.

Bowen tomato grower Jamie Jurgens out in one of his paddocks checking on the health of his plants.

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KNOWING they’re providing an essential service in an environmentally friendly way is fuelling Jamie Jurgens' tomato passion.

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KNOWING they’re providing an essential service and doing it in a way that doesn’t harm the environment yet delivers what customers want is fuelling the passion Jamie Jurgens has for growing tomatoes.

Despite suffering crop losses amounting to $2 million from the 2010 poisoning episode, and their situation close to the Great Barrier Reef, Jamie and his wife Melita love what they do and see very real long-term prospects for their tomato, capsicum and chilli operation at Bowen.

Jamie is the fourth generation of his family tending crops on about 150 hectares, processing tomatoes as well as selling fresh gourmet and Roma tomatoes, under the Vee Jay’s brand.

The 20 per cent of the Jurgens’ crop that is diverted into their own processing plant to become semi-dried tomatoes is aimed at spreading the financial risk and boosting their value per acre.

It’s captured solid markets around Australia, according to Jamie, thanks to a strategy of close customer communications.

“You see big companies calling themselves the fresh food people but really it’s us that are the true fresh food people.”

“Australian farmers are generally bad at promoting themselves and what they do,” he said.

“We run an environmental management system and paddock to plate education programs to try and communicate with consumers.

“You see big companies calling themselves the fresh food people but really it’s us that are the true fresh food people.”

It’s this connection that needs to happen to convince people of the importance of buying local produce rather than imported goods, he believes, a view that’s been reinforced by travel to Japan, the Netherlands, Israel and the US in recent years.

Jamie says, compared to farmers overseas, Australian growers have well advanced growing techniques.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’d say adaptability is a key to getting ahead."

As Reef Guardian farmers, the Jurgens have adopted a number of sustainable farming practices, which offer the double benefit of helping their bottom line.

They include precision farming with GPS to minimise soil compaction, save fuel and improve the water-holding capacity of the soil.

Tomatoes are a water-intense crop, using 6-7 megalitres/ha but Jamie has introduced silt traps to capture runoff for re-use, and makes his own compost.

Escalating electricity costs mean that solar panels may soon become part of the landscape.

“No two years are the same here,” Jamie said.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’d say adaptability is a key to getting ahead.

“But at the end of the day we’re a true renewable resource and everyone needs to be fed.”

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