One week before Christmas 2017, the Shepherd’s team, including founder and Head Baker Michael Shepherd, headed west to take part in the annual wheat harvest in and around Dubbo, and to spend time with the Aussie farmers and millers of the crop which defines our business….
We are prepared for the heat, so it’s not such a shock as we step out of the air-conditioned prop plane and onto the tarmac at Dubbo Airport. There’s a feeling that out here, ‘real’ heat begins at 40 degrees Celsius, so at a measly 37 degrees, we’ve arrived on what is almost a spring-like day for this sprawling regional town of 40,000 people.
The Shepherd’s team are visiting rural NSW for one day only, at the invitation of the Furney family of Ben Furney Mills, who have supplied us with the best quality Aussie flour for over a decade. Managed by brother and sister duo Sarah and Ben Furney, who took over from their parents 17 years ago, the business has deep roots in the area, with Furney’s having farmed and milled the rich Macquarie Valley for over 100 years.
We’re here to connect with the farmers who supply the grain which eventually becomes our sourdough, pastries and pies, and to learn more about the process of growing the crop which most of us consume daily across Australia. A lovely touch greets us as we climb into the dusty 4WD at the airport – a tea-towel covered basket of fresh, old-fashioned rock cakes, whipped up at the Mill by one of the Ben Furney test bakers under instructions from Sarah – in case we get peckish on the way.
We need to compress our itinerary for the day a little thanks to our delayed flight in, so we set off straight away from the airport in the direction of the first farm we’re visiting. Located in Guerie, about a half hour south east of the town, the farm is called Leichardt and it’s a ‘dry land’ (or unirrigated) farm.
Ben Furney Customer Relationship Manager Linden Kotze explains that dry land farming means the farmer – and the crops – make do with “whatever comes from the sky”; a more sustainable and natural way to farm, but one which produces variable outputs each year. The majority of wheat farmed in Australia is grown like this
Leichardt is owned and run by the third generation of the Robinson family to work this land, and it is a smaller scale, mixed farm which is also home to over 1800 ewes and 750 lambs. Like most all wheat farmers, they plant their crops in April, when the ground is hopefully moist due to Autumn rains, and harvest from December to January. An ideal year to grow wheat out here is one in which is rains heavily throughout Autumn and Winter – in 2017 however, the rains came later in October, and this has affected the protein levels in the wheat grain, as well as the yield.
Ben Furney Mills work with over 80 farms in any given four-year period. Some are located not far from Dubbo, others come into town from up to 200km away to sell their wheat, as well as to shop and use Dubbo’s range of services. The next nearest independent miller is in Victoria or South Australia. Sarah is quick to answer when asked the price of wheat currently – at $300 per tonne – 30c per kg – it’s surprisingly high considering wheat flour retails in supermarkets at 80c per kg.
Stay tuned next week to read about the rest of our Farm. Oven. Plate experience, following the food your eat from dirt to dinner!
While you’re here, why not check out our 1 minute video of our journey!