August 21, 2015
An interest in diversifying a dairy enterprise with agroforestry has evolved into a full-scale nursery wholesaling half a million plants a year for a Murray Valley couple.
Ron and Leonie Dikkenberg, with their son Luke, run Australian Native Farm Forestry at Cobram East.
The business specialises in ground covers up to 60cm, shrubs under 1.5m, shrubs 2m-5m, trees, grasses, and is an authorised propagator and stockist of Ozbreed plants.
The wholesale propagation nursery sells direct to farmers, nurseries, landscapers, shire councils, landcare groups and the general public.
In 1987, Ron and Leonie were running a 250-cow dairy at Berrigan when they decided to diversify their enterprise to include agroforestry.
“All we had was half a dozen grey box trees on the farm so I wanted to reproduce the New Zealand agroforestry model of growing end use trees for timber or veneer,’’ Mr Dikkenberg said.
“We planted predominantly gums and long leafed wattles – we grew an additional 3000 trees, put a sign at the front gate and sold the lot.
“So, the next year I doubled the amount and they sold too. For 10 years we juggled the dairy with propagating native trees and shrubs for farmers and Landcare groups.’’
Once the couple reached production levels of 100,000 plants a year, something had to give.
“It was the start of the drought, our milk contract was being phased out and the trees were making more income than the dairy, so it was an obvious choice,’’ Mr Dikkenberg said.
The family sold the dairy and moved to a 2ha block at Katamatite to concentrate on a wholesale nursery business.
After a decade, the business outgrew the block and was relocated to a greenfield site with highway exposure at Cobram East.
Today, the business grows up to 500,000 plants a year, including higher value plants in six, eight and 12 inch pots.
“We have supplied plants for golf courses at Yarrawonga-Mulwala, Rich River and Mooroopna, wetland plants for regeneration areas on farms, the Numurkah and Mooroopna wetlands, and Shepparton Lake,’’ Mr Dikkenberg said.
“I have a saying that a farmer is a man outstanding in his field, and that’s how I like it to be, outdoors working with plants.
“Leonie does the propagating and Luke looks after the retail shop and on-line sales.’’
Leonie has incorporated a small gift shop with garden ornaments and sculptures.
Australian Native Farm Nursery provides a tree preparation and planting service to landholders and organisations covering rotary hoeing, planting, guarding and watering tree and shrubs as windbreaks, landcare plantings, revegetation projects, wildlife corridors and wetlands.
All stock is hand planted from frost hardy tube stock.
“Our farming background gives us an understanding of the different soil types in paddocks and we can plant to suit with a high success rate of plant establishment,’’ Mr Dikkenberg said.
Australian Native Farm Forestry exhibited at the Henty Machinery Field Days for the first time last year and will be back again this year with a range of ground covers, shrubs, trees and Ozbreed plants.
Also at the field days will be Luke’s business, Cobrawonga Estate, offering gluten free Australian bush tucker jams, dukkah and spice blends.
Always interested in cooking, Luke decided to expand into bush tucker two years ago.
He sources native herbs and spices, including lillypilly, rainforest plum, bush tomato, quandong, wattleseed, mountain pepper and lemon myrtle, from indigenous communities in central Australia.
They are then blended to create a range of spice rubs, dukkahs, seasonings and jams.
Luke has used farmers markets at Violet Town, Tocumwal and Yarrawonga, and the Elmore Field Days to market the products.
“They are niche products – all gluten and dairy free – and I have had plenty of positive feedback,’’ he said.