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Queensland papaya grower has the taste for innovation

Posted by Rabobank Australia on


With fresh eyes and bold vision, Chris Maisel is helping drive innovation and efficiency across Australia’s horticulture industry.

A relatively new industry entrant, Chris purchased his Dimbulah property, a paw paw and lime enterprise, in the picturesque Atherton Tablelands five years ago.

“I grew up on a cane property 20 minutes to the east, and as I was keen to remain in the region this property ticked all the boxes,” he explains. “I didn’t have experience in horticulture or citrus, but I could see there was potential for expansion and development, which was a really exciting proposition.”

With a background in cropping, a Bachelor of Applied Science and a Bachelor of Agribusiness from the University of Queensland, Gatton, and a thirst for innovation, Chris undauntedly set about critically analysing and challenging current methods.

He also expanded the enterprise to include papaya, and wasted no time applying his modern approach to production.

“When I entered the papaya industry I could see straight away that the industry standard planting practice could be improved, so I started asking the hard questions to the right people.”

“The current industry standard is to plant multiple seedlings at one site and later cut away the undesired sex trees,” he explained.

“That practice is inefficient, requires skilled labour and adds to disease pressure, and I knew there had to be an easier way.”

Chris has now developed an on-farm lab where papaya plants are tested and their sex determined before planting.

“By identifying the sex of the seedling prior to planting it enables a grower to plant the desired sex seedling across the entire paddock, thus increasing efficiency, production and reducing waste.”

It’s innovation that has been tested at research level and will be the first of its kind commercially, as well as an exciting personal development for Chris.

“I feel really good about eliminating the unproductive sites in my paddocks, and am looking forward to increasing my yield as a result.”

Research and development leads the way

Chris regularly provides input to the papaya industry levy-funded projects, and believes that if you don’t participate and innovate you risk being left behind, particularly when it comes to plant breeding.

“We currently grow several varieties of reds and yellows. I actively participate by providing feedback for variety selection and support the levy-funded breeding program by providing breeding plots on my farm.”

The ultimate goal, he says, is to expand the marketability and thus profitability of the Australian papaya industry.

Chris with Channel 10's Farm to Fork host Louis Tikaram who filmed on his property last year.

“The challenge is to create new papaya varieties with improved eating quality that will provide greater diversity and please more tastebuds.”

Currently, The Hort Innovation Papaya Fund is investing in the development of new papaya varieties by analysing and highlighting the key flavour types within the whole papaya chain to create a library of chemical fingerprints to differentiate these new flavour types.

“As an industry, we need to continue varietal development and drive for increased productivity and profitability. Personally, I try to bring a modern approach to old problems, doing so by working in collaboration with the industry papaya breeding program for future proofing the industry.”

Contributing to a sustainable future

Chris also recently embraced the opportunity to attend a Rabobank Carbon Neutral Agriculture Workshop, aimed at providing local producers with a basic understanding of emissions in farming, and support the start of their carbon journey.

Held at Tinaroo, it provided a valuable chance to dig into the topic alongside fellow farmers, Rabobank staff and expert presenter, Sustainability Field Manager for Nutrien, Charles Starkings.

And Chris believed it was the relaxed, welcoming format of the two-day workshop – whereby everyone was learning together – that set the initiative apart.

“I studied science at university, so I have a good base understanding of the topic, but to be able to draw from the knowledge and experience of a pool of fellow farmers from across a range of industries was second-to-none and makes for practical, robust discussion.”

Themed around building knowledge on the fundamentals of emissions sources and sinks in farming, the workshop included the completion of a carbon calculation using the Greenhouse Accounting Framework developed by the University of Melbourne and the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre.

“This was our first time having a glimpse of a number, and it was really helpful to be able to sit down and work through our on-farm emissions guided by experts,” Chris said.

“I don’t believe we yet have enough of an understanding about where we stand, or what that number means - so there’s still a bit of refinement that needs to happen, particularly in the horticultural industry,” Chris said.

Increased efficiencies and production key to farming sustainability

Describing the workshop as “engaging and thought provoking”, Chris said one of his key take-aways was that, while it may be hard for some producers to become net zero, reductions in emissions intensity can be achieved by increasing productivity and input use efficiency.

“Although I don’t believe we have enough of an understanding about where we stand, and what that number means – there’s still a bit of refinement that needs to happen, particularly in the horticultural industry.”

Rabobank's Gavin Kruger and Chris at the recent Rabobank Carbon Neutral Agriculture Workshop.

“It’s every farmer's dream to produce more with less, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for the bottom line profitability.”

Chris applauded Rabobank for taking a lead and supporting their farming clients through this practical, grassroots approach.

“It’s an evolving space which will change rapidly in the coming years, but it’s important to make a start, and with workshops so conveniently located it made that start very easy to access.”

“It’s also refreshing to be with a bank that is not telling us what targets to hit, but is supporting us to make conscious decisions regarding our future – and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to invest in their future.”

Sharing their farming message through Farm to Fork

Chris is proud to be contributing to Australia’s fresh food movement, with his Rocky Top Farms brand of papayas, paw paws and limes, supplied to the traditional Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne markets each week.

To further showcase and promote his paddock to plate journey, last year Chris was featured on Channel 10’s Farm to Fork cooking program, helping educate Australians’ on where their food comes from.

He believed Rabobank’s partnership with Channel 10’s Farm to Fork, which regularly features Rabobank clients’ sharing stories of their produce, how it’s grown and how to incorporate these products into recipes, was an excellent initiative.

“There’s still a huge disconnect between what consumers desire and what we as farmers can deliver sustainably to the supermarket. Educating consumers remains a priority.”

“We had Farm to Fork host Louis Tikaram, of Brisbane’s Stanley Restaurant, come and film on-farm for a day which was something totally different for me. I never imagined doing anything like that but it was really fun – and I even still get recognised from time to time!”

Passionate about taking a future lead within the industry, he said it was also a valuable personal development opportunity, enabling him to work on interpersonal skills.

Enthusiastic, dedicated and with an eye on the future, Chris will continue to try and drive innovation and champion the papaya industry.

“I’ll have a crack at anything once, sometimes you have a win, sometimes you don’t but I don’t think I’ll ever lose that drive to try and progress our industry because I still think there’s huge inroads to be made.”