THE Monigatti family are a true example of successful farm diversification.
Dairy farmers for three generations, the family bought a 600 acre dry block at Strathallan, out of Echuca, in the 1980s.
At the time, the Monigattis were open to ideas; keen to start a new chapter in their farming history.
“Dad knew nothing about growing tomatoes at the time, but the soil type was perfect for it,” Paul Monigatti recalled.
“But he knew he wanted to break away from dairy farming and try something new.
“At the time, we had neighbours coming in to ask if they could lease the land to grow tomatoes, and Dad said yes – as long as he could learn from them.”
Fast forward almost 40 years and the Monigattis are producing 7500 tonnes of processing tomatoes each year.
They have also just successfully canned the first cherry tomatoes for SPC Ardmona.
“We have a long relationship with SPC, and they came to us last year and said they wanted to run a trial on canning cherry tomatoes, because there were none produced in Australia,” Paul said.
“So, we made a few modifications – and that’s what we planted.”
Growing 500 tonnes of cherry tomatoes does not come without challenges.
The Monigattis had to adjust their harvesting machine, which is designed to deal with plump processing tomatoes – not the marble sized cherry variety.
There were also adjustments made to the way the crop was planted – with a more intensive style employed across eight hectares.
“The end result is that we now have a locally grown, locally owned and locally produced canned cherry tomato available on the supermarket shelves,” Paul said.
Fred Harrison is the chief executive officer for Ritchie’s Supa IGA.
He thinks the introduction of Ardmona Cherry Tomatoes marks a bold new step for the Australian food industry.
“Canned cherry tomatoes from Australia have been missing from shelves until now – we can finally give Australians the option to buy a home-grown product that tastes great and supports local growers,” Mr Harrison said.
“It’s a great sign of SPC’s commitment to supporting the Australian food industry – including growers and retailers.”
Although farming cherry tomatoes is new for the Monigattis, it is not the first time the family has diversified their product.
Not long after they started tomato production, the family planted out hay crops – run on an irrigation bore system.
For years, the family grew hay for their own use, and also to on-sell to chaff mills in the area.
“Back in 2000, an opportunity came up for us to buy a chaff mill out of Deniliquin,” Paul said.
“We wanted to create a market for our own product.”
Looking forward, they could see it made sense to grow hay to supply their own chaff mill, rather than sending it off-site.
Rich River Chaff and Grain now sells 150,000 bags a year to feed-stores across the country.
“It has been a great business off-shoot for us,” Paul said.
“In tomatoes, you get an income for a few months of the year – but the chaff allows us to have an income all year round.
“We have 500 acres under lucerne production.”
Sometimes, getting the right mix in farming can take years of trial and error.
For the Monigattis, smart business ideas, coupled with family support, have allowed the company to grow far beyond what was first envisioned.
“Dad would never have suspected, back in the ‘80s, just how far the place would grow,” Paul said.