There’s a change in the air around the Gunnedah district of late, with a new generation at the helm and a renewed enthusiasm for the region’s potential.
Long considered one of Australia’s agricultural heartlands, a quiet inter-generational shift in recent years has revealed a community brimming with youth and energy.
Also proudly contributing to Gunnedah’s renaissance is Delta Agribusiness, having recently unveiled a handsome new purpose-built premises.
According to Delta Ag Gunnedah Branch Manager, Paul Hurley, the development was timely, signifying further confidence in the region.
“Gunnedah has a wonderful vibe at the moment, but for a long time the town suffered – the closure of traditional industries such as the abattoir and timber mill posed huge challenges, mining then filled some void, but now it really feels like there’s been an overall shift forward,” Paul reflects.
“There is a new generation back on the farm, new industry and infrastructure is moving ahead in town, fresh relationships are being formed, bringing with them plenty of new opportunities. It’s an exciting time for the region.”
And there’s nothing that buoys a small community quite like a new development, with Delta Ag’s new branch drawing compliments from near and far.
“It really is a fantastic building, with no expenses spared, and the fact that it is in a prominent position in town, on what was quite an eyesore, it has certainly sparked plenty of interest.”
“People are grateful the site has been ‘tidied up’ - in fact it has come up so well, a few people have expressed regret that they hadn’t developed something there themselves,” he laughs.
While Delta Ag entered the Gunnedah market in 2015, Paul explains that the development marks the company’s first stand-alone premises within the community.
Delta Ag acquired the retail merchandise and fertilizer business, along with the contract spraying and spreading services and their assets of long standing local agribusiness NFS Ag.
“However, until now we were still trading out of the old original Mullaley Road premises, alongside the newly rebranded NFS Ag precision ag business arm ‘Vantage NSW’. Understandably, there was a lot of confusion, with three businesses essentially trading from the one site.”
The new Delta Ag site, also on Mullaley Road, represents a clean slate for the business.
“The fantastic new branding ensures a clear definition, when you drive through those gates you’re at Delta Ag, there’s no confusion.”
There’s also no need to look any further for a complete ag supply service.
“Previously we just didn’t have the space for general rural merchandise, but now we have, and are able to stock the complete range of rural business needs. People already like what they see,” Paul says.
Traditional sales of ag chemical, seed and fertilizer are also high on the agenda, and unlike many of its counterparts, Delta Ag Gunnedah goes one step further by providing spraying and spreading services.
One of only a few re-sellers with application capacity, Paul credits this model as a genuine ‘one-stop solution’.
“For example, our agronomist, Jason Bray, can provide a paddock recommendation to the grower which is also sent directly to our merchandise team to compile and supply the product within the rec, at the same time of being sent directly to our application team to undertake the spraying or spreading job,” Paul explains.
“It’s a streamlined supply and apply approach, which our clients appreciate. It’s really helping to take the headache out of the farm management.
“Throw in their dog biscuits on top of that, and they really don’t need to shop anywhere else,” Paul laughs.
A formula popular in the American Co-op model, Delta Ag Gunnedah Applications Manager Scott Cohen said the full suite of products and services offered by the branch was proving enticing for growers.
“We utilise four RoGator self-propelled machines – two sprayers and two spreaders, with a team of operators consisting of Bruce Fulloon, Heath Fulwood, Dave Miller and Dean Higgins,” Scott explains.
“Equipment like this is expensive, they’re not toys, they’re top of the range machines and if their wheels aren’t turning then that’s a huge expense for growers to have on their books.
As a result, contracting has become a large part of our business, with clients increasingly looking to outsource their application needs.”
With a long history in the field – 15 years in the Hunter Valley wine industry and eight years in the application service industry on the Liverpool Plains – Scott is a recent asset to the team.
“I started this role in November and despite a challenging summer season, the energy and positivity within the branch is infectious,” Scott says.
Hailing originally from Caroona, Scott laughs that there were obvious perks to working in the wine industry, but with he and his wife Jane having three children in three years, a move back to the region, and closer to family, was inevitable.
“This is a fantastic place to raise a family, and you’d be hard pushed to find another rural area as safe as the Liverpool Plains.”
While the area has endured a dry summer, compounded by below average winter and spring rainfalls, recent falls could suggest a break in the season.
Scott believes that local irrigated crops, predominantly cotton and sorghum, are looking good, but dryland summer crops have done it tough. “The long fallow crops have made it through – they’ll hit average, but any short fallow crops have struggled.”
“Everything is holding on, but we really missed that spring rain in the profile at planting time.” Recent falls of up to 100mm signal a good start to the winter season, and Scott suggests will help finish the current summer crop and satisfy stock looking for feed.
“The soil on the Liverpool Plains is phenomenal, it responds beautifully – the beauty of the plains is that we can crop all year around – we’re far enough north that we hit the bottom of the northern weather systems, and we’re far enough south that we hit the top or any southern systems – we’re in a real purple patch.”
Incorporating a service area stretching from Baan Baa to Blackville, Coonabarabran across to Tamworth, Paul said many of the staff are local to the region.
A Quirindi local himself, Paul has worked for Delta Ag since its inception in Gunnedah three years ago.
“Whether you employ the best graduate agronomist in the country or headhunt the best rural salesperson in the industry, building business without local knowledge and those local relationships is always going to be an uphill battle,” Paul says.
“Here, we have a strong reach throughout the whole region, we all grew up in different communities within our service area, and know the families we service in those areas well.”
“Nick Wilson has been working within the area in rural merchandise for over 20 years, and is so well known within the industry he is affectionately referred to as ‘part of the furniture’.
”But with a staff derived from Gunnedah as well as the various surrounding communities, there is one ongoing challenge that will be hard to overcome.
“Central North Rugby, particularly the battle of the plains between the Gunnedah Red Devils and Quirindi Lions, always sparks a pretty healthy rivalry and conversation around the water cooler,” Paul chuckles.
“Pauly Anscombe and Nick are both die-hard Gunnedah Red Devils ex-players and supporters, with Nick reminding us all of his own highlights reel - regularly!
”With a bright young team that clearly gets on well, a custom built new premises, and a break in a run of dry seasons, Paul is just as excited for the future of the region as anyone.
“Most of the staff have young families, so when we walk in the doors we’re all dealing with the same issues, but at the end of the day that’s why we’re here – we’re all passionate about the region, passionate about agriculture and passionate about giving our children the best lifestyle possible – and we all believe that’s right here on the Liverpool Plains.”