Success tastes sweet for honey producers Bakehouse Farm

Agricultural businesses have mostly stayed strong during the COVID-19 pandemic, RDA Murraylands and Riverland says.

This article is brought to you by Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't been a bitter experience for every business – just ask honey producers Simon and Sally Peacock.

The couple realised their dream of establishing a farm in the Murraylands about eight years ago, when they began keeping bees at a property perched by the River Murray at Mypolonga.

By 2018 farming had become a full-time occupation for Simon, and the family business now produces beef, lamb, poultry, fruit, pumpkins and more.

Sales of their honey at Murray Bridge's IGA and Drakes supermarkets have skyrocketed during the past few months, with demand at Drakes alone quadrupling from 30 kilograms per month to the same amount every week.

More and more of their other produce is being sold at Farm Fresh Market on Adelaide Road and a wholesaler in the Adelaide Hills.

“The honey demand has been great, and Randall from Drakes has been great by pushing our product, and other local producers too,” Simon says.

“Initially we only saw a small impact when we slowed down our direct supply to some of the local Chinese takeaways, but this has picked back up just this week, actually, so we’re well and truly back on track.

“We also grew our first crop of pumpkins this year, which has gone really well, and we’ve expanded into beef too, which is going strong.”

A turning point for the business came in 2018, when he reached out for some one-on-one expert advice on packaging and labelling his honey through Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland's Experts in Residence Program.

The program allowed he and Sally to work directly with food labelling expert Belinda Hanson-Kenny to improve their product.

They recommend it to anyone else starting out in the agriculture industry.

“Yeah, that program was awesome,” Simon says.

“The sessions with Belinda just really helped us put some polish on our honey products and understand the legal requirements for labelling, too.

"We went away after the workshop and updated our labels, and also rebranded from Peacock Honey to Bakehouse Farm.

"Ever since then things have gone really well for us.”

Simon says there is still plenty of room for growth though, and he and Sally are preparing to expand their beehives and value-add across parts of the farm business, including potentially into honey-based beauty products.

RDA Murraylands and Riverland is encouraging anyone from the agriculture, horticulture, wine or food industry to register their interest in the 2020-22 Experts in Residence Program by filling out a form at rdamr.com.au.

Growers holding steady amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Murraylands and Riverland’s agricultural sector has held relatively steady throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with limited variations to business activity levels and minimal job losses.

However, the region’s horticulture sector has reported various impacts, with some noting a significant growth in demand from grocery stores throughout March and April.

In discussions with producers across the region, RDA Murraylands and Riverland staff have heard from businesses that are growing onions, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, citrus, nuts, lettuce, dates and more.

A common story for many is that while there were initial concerns around major cuts to wholesale restaurant and cafe supply, this has been buffered by the spike in household demand.

RDAMR regional development manager Sandy Iosefellis says this is good news for the region, as the agriculture and horticulture sector is our biggest economic contributor.

It employs more than 6300 people across almost 3000 businesses, and contributes approximately $930 million of our regional economic value – almost 30%.

“Our farmers and producers across the Murraylands, Mallee and Riverland are some of the most resilient and adaptable in Australia," Sandy says.

"Despite the current challenges facing the world right now, the necessity of our food production and supply chains is emphasised more so now than ever before.

“The sector employs one in five of our region’s workers and most of these positions appear secure right now as household grocery demand remains strong.

"The public are more inclined now than ever before to buy Australian-made and grown products, and the hospitality industry is slowly reopening again.”

RDA regional development manager Bruce Mellett says the most immediate challenge for growers, as state and national border restrictions remain in place, is finding seasonal workers to cover the citrus picking season as it ramps up to its peak through June.

“Our citrus industry and workforce agencies have done such a great job so far, with RDAMR providing assistance with access to accommodation and PIRSA recently launching its Seasonal Jobs SA website,” he says.

RDA Murraylands and Riverland is here to help and wants to know how your business is going.

Contact them on 8580 8500 to see how they might be able to help you, or tell them how you're going via the survey at rdamr.com.au/wearehere.

Correction: The business is called Bakehouse Farm, not Bakewell, as it was incorrectly named in a newsletter on June 4. Photos: Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland.