Tina Caamano makes every cent count

MA
By Meg Anderson
Updated December 2 2021 - 9:07pm, first published 9:00pm
Lime grower Tina Caamano on her farm at Mareeba.

Mareeba lime grower Tina Caamano refers to herself as an 'appentice farmer', not for her lack of experience, but rather her insatiable curiosity and desire to learn.

Based on 42 hectares (103 acres) east of Mareeba, her plot might be small, but with an open mind, even a small patch of land can create big opportunities.

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Six years ago Tina made the decision to move and start her own business, after working on her family's lime farm at Mareeba for many years.

Through pure management she has cut her input costs, improved water retention, and increased the yield, quality and shelf life of limes on her farm.

For Tina, it's about understanding the bones of your business and making every cent count.

"I'm always wanting to know 'why' and 'how' things are done," she said.

"You can't go into business or anything in life without understanding why you're doing it otherwise you don't have goals or anything.

"So it's been a big learning curve for me because yes, I grew up on a farm, but it's different when you have to make a living, when you have to do it."

I often call myself an apprentice farmer because i am a 'why' person. I need to know why I'm doing it, and why it works that way.

- Tina Camano.

Tina's parents first began to implement regenerative farming practices on their farm 10 years ago, by mulching their trees to reduce synthetic input costs and improve soil health.

"It was always hard to get fertilisers in, and you were constantly having to pump stuff into the trees because the soil wasn't functioning correctly," she said.

"You couldn't keep up with the weed control and the soil was quite hard, like cement.

"The trees were producing and everyone was making a living but it just didn't seem sustainable."

Now, a decade on, the soil is light, and the fruit quality is great.

"The chemicals we were using to keep the weed control down was ultimately killing the soil, which affects the uptake of nutrients for the tree itself, which obviously affects yield, and dollars," she said.

"Now over the years since they started mulching the soil has become airy, dark and light., and there are a lot of living organisms, with worms and fungi, you can see the difference."

"We are also fertilising less because the soil is healthy, its fluffy and it keeps the nutrients there and makes it more readily available for the tree."

Tina has implemented similar practices on her own farm, mulching her crops and incorporating biofertilisers to improve her soil.

"One of the biggest improvements we've noticed is colouring, and the longer shelf life, cell development is really good," she said.

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"Water consumption for us has gone down 20 per cent purely because the moisture is still under the tree, the soil is so airy to start with that the water penetrates straight away.

"It really comes down to money and saving costs."

Earlier this year her business reached a new milestone, launching her own 'Lime Zello' liqueur- a kind of infused liqueur

"I started the journey on that in March this year, and in collaboration with a distiller we came up with a Lime Zello that you can use as a mixer or have on ice," she said.

"It was something to value-add and be a bit creative, and it's made using fruit that we can't sell purely based on looks.

"So we're not wasting the fruit, or throwing it down a gully or discarding it because it's not pretty enough for the shelf."

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Tina said the feedback so far had been fantastic and was excited about the new venture.

"It's now stocked at Dan Murphy's, BWS and a few Liquor stores in Cairns so it's slowly getting out there and has had really good traction."

Tina's latest creation, a Lime Zello produced with fruit that would usually be discarded.

This yeah Tina's farm was involved in a mulch trial which compared the effectiveness of three different types of mulch; tea-tree, hay and woodchip.

"I was approached by the WETS soil corporation to do a trial on some virgin soil in relation to what mulches would be best to uptake nutrients, and how regularly you would need to reapply," she said.

"The results have been really surprising."

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There were three rows of 16 trees, with each row receiving a specific type of mulch.

"The tea tree mulch was really good, the trace elements were absorbed quite well, and it doesn't break down as much so would probably involve an application once every two years," she said.

"The woodchip we found was quite dry, but it only needs to re-applied every two to three years so it does stay on longer which helps with weed control, but hay mulch itself had a higher yield in fruit."

Tina monitors the health of her fruit crops by doing leaf tests every one to two months, and soil tests every three to six months.

"Because the trees are producing all the time, they're always sucking up nutrients- manganese, magnesium, calcium, all that sort of stuff.

"You've got to have the right levels in the soil and leaves to produce the fruit, because If you are out in balance you're yield can be quite low."

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Two years ago she also became involved with a local producer lead Wet Tropics Soil Care Group- formed in 2014 to connect likeminded individuals, helping them improve the productive capacity of their soil.

"I think the whole committee is about 'here's an idea, anyone interested, lets give it a go'," se said.

"Sometimes you don't know what's out there, people might have been doing this for years and it's just about collaboration, everyone getting together, talking about different things and sharing knowledge.

"It's not for everyone, but nothing in life really is."

In other news:

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