Mareeba citrus grower Con Iacutone has left no stone unturned in his pursuit to be a successful farmer.
With the support of his wife Carla and family, Con has faced the trials and tribulations of farming head on.
Raised on a tobacco farm at Chewko, before moving with his family to a farm at Emerald Creek in 1971, a life toiling the land was not his first preference.
“I wanted to be a radio television technician but Dad wanted a hand to pay off some of the farm at Emerald Creek, so we decided I would stay for a couple of years,” Con said.
A couple of years has turned into a lifetime commitment, with the hard and physical labour of farming in the 1970s giving him a solid foundation for the future.
Con took over the farm, introduced mechanised harvesting and started looking at diversification options.
“In the 1980s I started thinking about diversifying,” Con said.
“I always attended meetings to see how the industry was going.
“I like to know what happens in my business. I want to know new things and I don’t want to be the last one to know.”
Con was among the first growers of Murcott mandarins in the Mareeba region in the late 1980s. While there was little longevity in the crop due to pest issues, it gave Con the impetus to continue along the diversification track.
Armed with more information, Con planted Imperial mandarins, for which he enjoyed success for about 25 years.
Mangos were a mainstay on the 38 hectare farm for several years, with Con’s fruit sent to export markets in Japan, Singapore, Russia, France and the Middle East, a testament to his work to produce consistent quality.
His hard work has not going unnoticed and he has been named as a finalist in the annual Charlie Nastasi Horticultural Farmer of the Year Award which will be presented at a gala dinner in Mareeba on Friday.
The other nominees for the award, which is hosted by the Mareeba District Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, are Peter Inderbitzin and Tara Gauci-Quintieri.
The award recognises outstanding innovation and/or exceptional leadership in the Tableland horticultural industry.
“I’ve never been afraid to try new things,” Con said.
“You have to try and get something that works for you.
“But you need to farm correctly, farming isn’t just a lifestyle.
“Do your research, take your chances and have a go.”
Over the years, Con has grown, pumpkins, grapefruit, capsicum, paw paws, zucchini and lettuce.
But its also what Con does to improve on-farm efficiencies that sets him apart in the industry.
When faced with a spray drift issue, Con purchased a new machine – one of only two to be imported into the region at the time.
“I settled on a Greentech blower with an alternator and three-phase electric fans which are positioned to spray all they way up the tree so you get even chemical distribution, from top to bottom,” he said.
“The idea is that you push the air down, so if the spray doesn’t hit the tree its pushed down onto the ground.”
Con has converted his orchard to an automated water and fertigation system which allows him to program watering and liquid fertiliser remotely.
In between running his 5000-tree orchard, Con has found time to give back to the industry.
He has been a member of the Mareeba District Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association executive for 15 years, including several periods as deputy chair, and was a delegate on the citrus committee under the former Queensland Fruit and Vegetable Growers. He was among growers who helped transition the citrus committee to Citrus Australia.
“I want to help the industry go forward,” Con said.
“I like to be up the front if something new is happening and I want to be involved as much as I possibly can.”
Con credits a rural leadership course run by the Department of Primary Industries in the 1990s with reigniting his passion for farming.
He was surrounded by farmers of all different backgrounds – sheep, beef cattle, wheat and dairy cattle – but connected with similar issues and problems.
“We were all unhappy with what we were doing, me included, and looking for something new,” Con said.
“It made me think about what I was doing and reinforced for me to make the most of being a farmer.”