Grower profile – Judy Shepherd, Shepherd Citrus, QLD
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and for Queensland citrus grower Judy Shepherd the time for being innovative is well and truly now.
“We’re at a point where just being a good grower isn’t enough,” Judy said. “I think citrus growers are becoming more aware that we’re members of a very competitive global market, not just a small domestic one, and it’s time for us to be more globally minded, more innovative, more supportive of the younger generation, and not just reactive to what’s going on around us.”
Judy has been in the industry for 30 years, having married into the Shepherd family. “While for me it was a baptism of fire, my husband’s family has a long history in citrus,” she said. “My father-in-law was born into the industry in Western Australia, and set up his own orchard in Gayndah in the mid-70s. He’s always been a forward-thinker and involved in the R&D side of the industry, developing new varieties, trialling new varieties, trialling chemicals… if researchers wanted something done, they came to him.”
This innovative spirit continues in the Shepherd Citrus business today, which grows seven different mandarin varieties and dabbles in other citrus varieties across three separate properties.
“We’re quite involved in industry trials,” Judy said. “As one of the researchers we work with recently said, trial blocks can be some of the ugliest blocks you’ll ever see. We have a rootstock trial block the moment and it’s all different shapes and sizes so it just looks like we’re incredibly messy. But it’s such important work. If people don’t make production areas available for researchers then we just don’t innovate, and I think more and more growers are coming to see this and get involved.”
Outside of work into new varieties, Judy acknowledges that some areas of R&D can be tricky for the industry. “It can be hard to innovate when it comes to a lot of our production processes – for example, you can’t get a machine to take mandarins off the trees – but there are definite areas we can innovate in. We can look at not only new markets, but how we can increase our value in those markets and how we can value-add our product to take the industry forward,” she said.
“In our business we’re also constantly looking at work processes and how to get better returns on our labour costs. For example, we’re starting to look at different ways of thinning trees. We’ve got some chemical thinners, but we’ve also got some different platforms that we’re looking at.”
Judy is particularly keen to see what the new generation of growers can do, and is actively encouraging her son, Zac, to expand his horizons. “We’re trying to help him be far more globally minded producer than perhaps we needed be – not just in terms of marketing the fruit, but in terms of finding out what innovations are working in other parts of the world, being inspired and learning how to be a really clever grower. We’re encouraging him to get off the farm to see what’s happening out there and to build a network of good agriculture innovators to learn and share with.”
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