Spike’s still becomes self sufficient


KUNUNURRA Ord Valley grower Spike Dessert has more than 40 years experience in the seed industry.


 Not to mention the oldest continuously operating distillery in WA.


And the demise of sugarcane in the valley last November has done little to slow him down.
Mr Dessert already has plans in motion to build his own nano-mill.


 “Not only will we be planting our own mini crop of sugarcane in April, but we are looking to start building our own sugar mill next year,” Mr Dessert said.
“It is going to be fun – not a mini, not a micro, but a nano sugar mill to process just four hectares of cane,” he said.


 “We are not interested in making refined sugar, just sugar syrup, and in turn molasses – a key ingredient for our rum.”


 To add to the aesthetics, Mr Dessert will be using a flat pan evaporator, invented 200 years ago.


 “It is not that I am a great engineer, all the technology is on the Internet,” he said.
“Anybody thinking about expanding anything agriculturally only needs to look at the Agricultural Department’s library – it is amazing.
“It is a very efficient system, all you have to do is figure out what you want and they can source things for you.”


 Originally from Colorado River in California, Spike and his wife Kae made the long trek to Kununurra in 1972 to pursue a seed business with a family corporation.
After crisscrossing the globe a few times, the Desserts finally established their farm in the heart of the Ord Irrigation Area in 1986.


 And then wanting to expand their Dessert Seed Co. business, they decided to tack on a small pot distillery and make corn whisky.


 But it took a prolonged three years before the State Government would grant permits, and building only began in 1996.
Then with news of a future sugar mill in Kununurra, the Desserts changed course and set their sights on rum.


 “A perfect move I think,” Mr Dessert said.
“There is no doubting we are in a rum climate; for both drinking and making.”


 Finally in 1999 the distillery was up and running and brought with it the birth of The Hoochery – making rum with molasses supplied by Kununurra’s only sugar mill.


 However, with the mill’s closure last year, and estimates remaining molasses will run out next year, Mr Dessert is planning ahead by storing enough to last him until May 2010.
“That should provide us with sufficient molasses until our little sugar mill makes enough to keep the rum flowing,” he said.


 Mr Dessert was negotiating with the Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley and hoped to begin building next year March.


With more than nine products to purchase as well as their famous rum cake and in-house drinking – The Hoochery has been a hit with tourists and Kununurra residents from the beginning.
It is currently capable of producing 50,000 bottles of Ord River Rum per year.


 “We do harvest fruit and seeds – but instead of having a fruit stand we have a Hoochery,” Mr Dessert said.  



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Growers have their backs to the wall

DESPITE record breaking rain in Kununurra last month, several melon growers in the Ord Valley have succeeded in planting their first seeds – on time.

 But this year local growers have bigger problems on their hands than just trying to juggle seasons.

Soaring fertiliser prices are expected to give the industry a hammering.

 Ivanhoe producers Darryl and Rosemarie Smith said they rely heavily on Roundup during the wet season for weed control.

 And Mr Smith said its cost “has risen phenomenally”.

He said while everyone is talking about the high prices for commodities such as wheat, melon prices have remained fairly static.

 So with crippling input costs and little sign of increased returns, the region’s melon growers will have their backs to the wall in the coming season.

 Mr Smith said the melon industry is also concerned about its reputation at the retail end because of quality control.

“We follow strict regulations when transporting our melons and are confident to say they are kept within the 6C minimum requirement – which assures a good shelf life,” Mr Smith said.

 “But it is disappointing to see fruit put out on supermarket shelves at store temperature – which causes it to deteriorate quickly,” he said.

He said it is frustrating for all growers and should not reflect their efforts.

 “The market remains good if everyone is producing quality melons as well as keeping the standards up on the other end,” he said.

 But the consumer judges the product on what they purchase, not understanding how it was grown and the quality it was in when it left the farm gate.

 Mr Smith said melons are extremely labour intensive, and next month should see the influx of backpackers and an increase in employment by May, when pickers and packers are needed. 

 The Ord melon industry launches annually during the wet season, from December until March, and getting in the ground at that time can have a huge impact on yields.

But the Smiths said it is a gamble growers have to take.

 “You just cannot predict Mother Nature,” Mrs Smith said.

“As soon as it is dry enough to get into the paddock we plant,” she said.

 Melons are seasonably dependent and a typical season in Kununurra begins in March with the last seeds being planted at the beginning of August.

 However, farms such as Ivanhoe stop planting in July because of the sharp increase in temperature and humidity.

 “Melons grow well at 30C, but anything over 40C and they ripen too quickly,” Mrs Smith says.

 Unseasonal mid-year rain last year caused some problems in the valley.

“We were lucky to get through it, other growers suffered worse, but it slowed the growth of our melons,” Mr Smith says.

“And our yields took a blow from diseases caused by the rain,” he says.

 “For the temperature to drop below 25C, and everything being wet, had a huge impact on melons up here.” 

Mrs Smith also says Ord growers do not have the option of manipulating their crops like growers in the south of WA do during the heat as the temperature does not drop significantly during the night in hotter months.

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Chia in the Ord




EVEN with competitive crops and land pressure, after just two years, commercial production of chia in the Kununurra Ord Valley is growing.

And with two thirds of The Chia Company owned by Kununurra growers, future employment opportunities for locals appear promising.


There are currently five Ord farmers growing the grain crop, which occupies 500 hectares of the valley.


Native to Central and South America, chia is being trialled as a nutritious plant-based source in Australia.


It contains one of the richest known plant-based sources of Omega 3 and 6, is rich in protein, fibre, antioxidants and a range of vitamins and minerals.


It also has the ability to regulate sugar intake in diabetic people. 


Company director John Foss said the crop was climate specific and so far Kununurra was the only place in Australia growing chia – with very positive results and harvesting 700 tonnes annually.


Although the maintenance and harvesting of chia has a reasonably low labour requirement, Ord grower Tim Croot said as the crop expanded, jobs would become available. 


“It is a mechanical crop and, whilst it is not very labour intensive, the production will be,” Mr Croot said.


“The cleaning and production stages will be done locally.”


Mr Foss said although it was a relatively new market, it was one with definite growth because of its health benefits.


“And global demand looks like increasing significantly as the product goes into major food companies,” he added.


“Presently the crop is purchased by health companies locally as well as internationally, with the US our biggest importer.


“At present we have enough land, but if the market continues to grow at the current rate we will look for extra growers in the future.”


Mr Croot said chia was an exciting crop that had a great future.


After a successful trial in 2005, The Chia Company began commercial production in 2006.


The crop is specific to the dry season, but holds the soil well during the wet.


“Chia dies when harvested and the stubble is very good at binding the soil, which prevents a lot of damage during the wet season,” Mr Croot said.


“Agronomically, the crop is good for Kununurra, but we are constantly learning.”


The only hurdle left is one shared by many growers – soaring fertiliser prices.


But Mr Croot said the crop was relatively fertiliser efficient.


And like most crops in the valley, the weeds needed spraying during the wet season – but the company did not expect to be hit any worse than most farmers.


“Fertiliser increases are a reality for all farmers.”




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