Smash­ing pump­kin niche

Bowen farmer holds on to spe­cialised mar­ket

Central and North Rural Weekly - - NEWS - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

STACKELROTH Farm has carved out its own niche mar­ket, pro­duc­ing pump­kins that are a per­fect fit for Hal­loween, but that doesn’t mean the hard work stops.

In fact, de­mand for the size-spe­cific, easy to carve jack-o-lan­tern pump­kins has tripled in the past six years.

Be­linda Wil­liams, who has been on the farm full time since her early 20s has wit­nessed the mar­ket evolve, start­ing about 16 years ago when she and her mother, Pam Stackelroth, signed up with a seed com­pany to trial the va­ri­ety in Bowen.

“Back then we didn’t ex­pect it to be this big,” she said.

“Coles got on board... they could see the po­ten­tial that there would be growth, that Aus­tralia would fol­low the trends of Amer­ica.”

The pick­ing sea­son lead­ing up to Hal­loween in­volved an in­tense six weeks, she said.

“This year Coles has around 230 tonnes for the east­ern state,” she said.

If keep­ing up with grow­ing de­mand wasn’t hard enough, this year Be­linda’s farm­ing busi­ness has felt a huge blow, de­liv­ered by Cy­clone Deb­bie.

“We had about 40,000 but­ter­nut plants and 30 acres of plas­tic down and we lost the lot,” she said.

“So ba­si­cally it was just one hell of a clean-up.

“We still have peo­ple work­ing on our sheds and on dif­fer­ent things so there was a fair bit of dam­age.”

Since then, how­ever, Be­linda said the weather had been “very kind”.

While Stackelroth Farm has been in the jack-o-lan­tern mar­ket since the be­gin­ning, that doesn’t en­sure big­ger play­ers can’t swoop in.

Be­linda’s part­ner, Michelle O’Re­gan, who also works on the farm full time, said main­tain­ing their con­tracts

They are not as solid as a but­ter­nut or jap. They need to be han­dled dif­fer­ently. — Michelle O’Re­gan

over the years all came down to “build­ing strong re­la­tion­ships”.

She said jack-o-lan­tern pump­kins were harder to grow than reg­u­lar va­ri­eties, but the ex­tra ef­fort was worth it.

“It’s taken 16 years of de­vel­op­ment, that’s for sure,” Be­linda said.

“Ob­vi­ously in Amer­ica they are grow­ing into a dif­fer­ent sea­son.

“They are grow­ing into the cooler weather, where we are grow­ing into the hot­ter weather.

“So there has been a lot of re­search and de­vel­op­ment to find a va­ri­ety that will stand up to our con­di­tions.”

Michelle said be­cause the pump­kins were in­tended to be carved, they also needed gen­tle care in han­dling.

“They are not as solid as a but­ter­nut or jap,” Michelle said.

“They need to be han­dled dif­fer­ently.”

While most of Stackelroth Farm’s carv­ing pump­kins are sent south, Be­linda said the Hal­loween trend had well and truly reached Bowen.

One of their work­ers throws a party ev­ery year, and streets in nearby Air­lie Beach are of­ten dec­o­rated this time of year.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

SPOOKY FARM­ING: Coles sup­plier for Hal­loween Be­linda Wil­liams has had a busy few weeks pick­ing jack-o-lan­tern pump­kins.

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