From tomatoes to tourists

The Lanyon family have made variety key to their success
The Southern Farmer
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THINKING BIG: Ian and Marilyn Lanyon like to think big when it comes to farming – having gone from being the biggest tomato producers in the Loddon Shire, the pair are now pulling in tourism awards for their farm-stay business.

IAN and Marilyn Lanyon epitomise successful farming.

Unlike many, they have embraced change at every opportunity – chosen to diversify, to grow and to adapt.

Like the famous poem – if there was a road less travelled, that was the one the Lanyons chose to walk.

Back in the early 1970s, Ian and Marilyn were looking to do more with their land.

Having purchased a farm outside of Boort, the pair knew the key to financial stability meant producing more than just lamb and cereal crops.

At the time, the local shire was in crisis – employment was on the decline, population numbers were shrinking and the town was staring down the barrel of economic disaster.

Enter Italian Mario Brunelli – he recognised potential for intensive horticulture and saw Boort as the Shepparton of the 21st century.

Planting 200 acres of irrigated tomatoes, Mario shared a fence line with the Lanyons.

“We owe him a debt of gratitude – not just us, but all of Boort really – he brought a whole new industry to the Loddon Shire,” Marilyn said.

In 1980, the Lanyons bought the Italian’s property – and took over the associated contract with Heinz.

“200 acres was a lot of tomatoes then, it’s not now – now, Boort is known as one of the best areas in Australia for tomato production, but back then it was just furrows with flood irrigation,” Marilyn said.

In partnership with Ian’s brother, the tomato farm doubled in size – initially harvesting 16 tonnes an acre, the Lanyons would eventually produce 30 tonnes an acre and employ 40 people.

“Knowledge, technology, drip irrigation – these things all made a difference in the production,” Marilyn said.

At the same time, the Lanyons continued to run their fat lamb operation, planting cereal crops seasonally.

In 2002, because – tongue in cheek – Marilyn says she wasn’t busy enough, they launched another business; Simply Tomatoes.

“It was really taking it to the next level; growing, harvesting, manufacturing, packaging and marketing products right from seed to supermarket shelf,” Marilyn said.

At the same time as Simply Tomatoes was taking off, the Lanyons decided to scale back on commercial tomato production.

After 30 years, they opted out of contract growing for the big processing companies.

“In 2004 we decided it would be our last year growing,” Marilyn said.

“It was good timing – that was the beginning of the 10 year drought; but at the time, it was becoming harder to make a commercial success of it.

“The market wasn’t what it used to be.”

Returning the land to cereal/sheep production, the Lanyons also scaled back their Simply Tomatoes crop to a single acre.

Despite the size reduction, the plot is as productive as ever.

“In February this year period, over a month, our team picked and preserved 29 large wheelie bins full,” Marilyn said.

VARIETY: From tomatoes to tourists, the Lanyons have enjoyed success in a number of fields.

In 2009, still running the farm and boutique tomato business, Marilyn decided to purchase Aussie Wool Quilts.

“It was a local business when it was put up for sale – if someone from Boort didn’t buy it, we would have lost that little industry,” she said.

“It was very important to our town that Aussie Wool Quilts stay.”

So, Marilyn embarked on yet another business – and to this day, can still be found proudly working at her sewing machine, putting together the 100 per cent woollen doonas.

“We don’t have computers that do the work for us, or that sew the quilts,” she said proudly.

“We have seven women working for us, women who have families and children at home – they are better than any computer – they are amazing.”

Selling into China, Aussie Wool Quilts-Boort uses pure Dorset wool from local farms, producing around 750 quilts each year.

To further compliment their offering, the Lanyons opened their Boort property to visitors looking for a genuine farm stay experience – with an estimated 70 visitors through the gates each week

“Tourism is now a major part of our business – people come out because they want to see what a real farm is like,” Marilyn said.

“We have sheep, tomatoes, crops, the doonas – we also make Woolly Warmers, therapeutic heat pads, that’s a new line for us – along with things people expect to see on a farm.

“In all things we do, our motto is ‘take small steps, and think big’.”

Thinking big could not be more of an understatement.

Since opening the farm up, the Lanyons have won two awards for Excellence in Food Tourism at the RACV Victorian Tourism Awards.

To put it mildly, Marilyn is more than just a farmer; she is a force in her own right.

She is enthusiastic, a big believer in the benefits of community and is quick to see the good in all.

Over the last 40 years, the Lanyons have come full circle; starting out with nothing to become the biggest tomato producers in the area.

Now, they are scaling back – last month, their neighbour purchased a large parcel of the original farm.

Of course, it doesn’t mean the Lanyons won’t be busy.

Quite the opposite – Ian and Marilyn are already busy planning their next move; to grow the Simply Tomatoes business into Asia, and to increase the Aussie Wool Quilts-Boort sales into the same market.

When asked about her achievements, Marilyn is almost embarrassed.

She does not want accolades, nor a fuss.

“I guess we have done a few things, over the years,” she said.

“I am proud of what we achieved – but we didn’t get here alone, there are a lot of people who have helped, including fellow farmers, local, state and national government.”

And that, right there, is the reason Marilyn continues to excel in her business ventures.

She wants everyone to feel involved in her success, to be a part of it.

There has never been an I in Marilyn’s team.

More farming news and stories can be read in the July, 2018 print edition of The Southern Farmer or click here to access digital editions.