Woman in Horticulture Profile – Tina McPherson:
From farming ventures to farming tours
Tina McPherson and her husband, Bruce, run a strawberry and passionfruit farming operation in Bundaberg and Childers. Recently, the McPhersons have begun moving the passionfruit to the Bundaberg property to bring all of the intensive crops onto the one site. In time, the Childers property will be converted to tree crops. Meanwhile, Tina has been cooking up an exciting new business venture hosting south-east Asian farming tours.
Like many women in horticulture businesses, Tina fulfils diverse roles around the property, moving between the farm office, packing shed, running the farm shop and coordinating visitors who come along to ‘pick your own strawberries’. Her primary role is Operations and HR Management. The business has a core staff of six people, including an excellent farm manager, and at the height of harvest season, Tina will have up to 30 staff on the books.
“I’m the harmonizer!” Tina said. “I keep everything running smoothly. I go around between all the pickers and packers and make sure everyone is happy, keep everyone busy, give them days off if they need it. I see my role is to ensure that everyone in the team stays until the very end of the season. The last thing you want is to be trying to find new staff only ten days out from the end of harvest, so we make sure everyone is looked after.”
Tina has recently experienced the process of employing staff on a 457 visa.
“We had two backpackers working for us who are just brilliant young men. One has a degree in transport logistics and supply chain management and the other is a qualified carpenter. They are very talented guys; they fit so well in our team, and wanted to stay.
“They brought skills that we need for the development of our farm and future markets, so we decided to try to host them on 457 visas. It’s not an easy process to navigate and you are required to clearly demonstrate the need for the person and how their skills are essential to achieving your business plan.”
Tina explained the main benefit of the ‘Pick your own strawberries’ component of the business was its promotional value.
“You can’t let little kids go fossicking about in your main commercial areas. But once we have completed harvesting from a patch and we are ready to sacrifice it, our visitors can go in and have some fun picking their own strawberries – and eating as much as they like! The benefit to us is that most of our visitors are locals and we’ve made a connection with them – so now they will look out for our product in their local shop.”
Tina says that what she loves about farming is the freedom to make your own decisions
“I love that we are only answerable to ourselves. The farm gives us the flexibility to have our family around us, and our kids a beautiful place to grow up. This property used to grow cane, so it’s nice to be able to look around the farm and think, we’ve built this ourselves.”
Tina has recently taken a bold new direction in her business interests forming a new company, Arable Adventures.
“When you go on leadership courses, they always bring to your attention the importance of spending your time doing things that you are passionate about and that you love doing.
“And I would have a laugh to myself because (besides farming) what I love is travel and touring – I could spend hours online looking at hotel deals and airfares! When I was in my twenties, I worked in resorts and my favorite part of the job was guest relations – helping people get organized to do the things they wanted to do on their holiday. I realized I was a frustrated tour guide!
“Also, when Bruce and I were working in corporate farming in Indonesia, I was just overwhelmed by the diversity of agriculture there – feedlots, irrigation, small lot farming. I really felt that other Australian farmers should see all these amazing things that are going on – all right on our doorstep.”
Knowing that people in agriculture love going around seeing other people’s farms and meeting other growers, Tina decided to forge ahead with Arable Adventures, to provide opportunities for rural women to explore the diversity of farming and rural life in exciting new locations.
Tina has planned the first tour to Vietnam because it is a very affordable, ‘doable’ destination that, like Indonesia, has so much for growers to see.
“The first tour will go in late February. I’m taking six to eight guests and we’ll be seeing lots of beautiful places and visiting horticulture farms, cricket feedlots, silk farms.”
As if her own business ventures weren’t enough to keep her busy, Tina chairs Passionfruit Australia Inc. and also participated on the steering committee for the recent review of Horticulture Australia Ltd.
“The HAL review was an interesting experience. It is valuable to have an opportunity to try to influence the future direction of such an important organization – even if the final decisions do not align with your views.
“We are in a brave new world now. The Peak Industry Bodies (PIBs) now need to reinvent themselves and reposition their relationship with the new Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA). It’s actually a good opportunity to find our own strengths and independence. We need to be more creative and think more cleverly – particularly to find new funding sources to help us achieve our priorities as independent peak industry bodies. Passionfruit Australia currently has a really strong executive team so I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead on the industry front.”
If you are keen to find out more about Tina’s Arable Adventures tours, just drop her a line on firstname.lastname@example.org