THE dry and harsh conditions at Lakeland on the Atherton Tablelands was the first thing that Peter Inderbitzin conquered on his arrival in the region.
The ambitious farmer and his family toiled hard on the land and 20 years ago became one of the first growers to plant bananas on the Tablelands, a crop traditionally grown on the coast.
Peter, who was originally from New Zealand moved to the Tablelands in the 1970s, where they ran a dairy and croppig business.
With rising costs for good agricultural land, Peter looked further afield, to the underdeveloped region of Lakeland about two hours north of Mareeba, in the 1980s.
“We’d heard about Lakeland – that there was red soil for sale and heaps of it,” Peter said.
“It was unbelievable.”
Peter and his family were farming trailblazers in Lakeland.
They purchased 872 acres in the beginning and didn’t realise how dry it was.
“We farmed very diligently by planting 24 hours a day when the weather was right,” Peter said.
“Once the rain came we would work day and night.
“When it got dry, there were losses.
“You could see your crops suffering to the tune of thousands of dollars a day.”
They farmed dryland for five years until they had the opportunity to purchase a second farm with access to water.
With a secure and reliable supply of water, the family forged a successful horticultural business, introducing fruit and vegetable crops including hay, peanuts, corn, various grass seed and legumes, sorghum, watermelons, cotton, sugar cane, potatoes, paw paw and a variety of beans.
They were able to grow a lot of the crops out of season due to the mild frost- free winters.
Over 20 years ago, they decided to grow bananas – a crop traditionally grown on the coast and today, the fruit makes up the majority of the family’s farming enterprise.
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 tomorrow night.
Peter has made a name for himself with compost, and in doing so, is helping reduce the carbon footprint, improve soil health, productivity and create a legacy for future generations.
“The most exciting thing is that we are achieving above average production and our soil is in really good health,” Peter said.
“It’s paying dividends by boosting production and quality.
“Our bananas have good colour all year round and sweet taste, our soil health has improved and it is holding onto more nutrients and water.
“We are now pushing hard to show how it has positive affects on the reef by way of less sediment and nutrient run-off.
“The other exciting thing is we are using 60 per cent less chemical fertilisers and our production figures have increased.”
Drawing from the farming success he has enjoyed with access to water, Peter is an avid champion for more reliable and secure water resources for Lakeland.
He takes a front seat in lobbying to open up further land to irrigated agriculture in the region.
“Of all the land available for agriculture in Lakeland, we are only using 10 per cent under irrigation,” Peter said.