DIVERSIFY: Happy Pig Farm owners Paul and Gail Gillis with pig Freckles say tourism has saved them numerous times.
DIVERSIFY: Happy Pig Farm owners Paul and Gail Gillis with pig Freckles say tourism has saved them numerous times.

Southern Downs agri-tourism could be Queensland’s key

AGRICULTURAL tourism may prove to be the vital key to Queensland’s economic recovery from coronavirus as Southern Downs operators attest to its success.

According to stage two of the State Government’s economic recovery strategy, $2 million of assistance will be dedicated to exploring potential agricultural diversification opportunities, such as tourism.

To Happy Pig Farm owners Paul and Gail Gillis, the wonders of agritourism were no new surprise. At the height of drought, expanding their offerings had been a saving grace.

“It was literally do or die,” Mrs Gillis said.

“We had to sell off our cattle, our dam became a stagnant pond, we couldn’t run our market garden … but the fact that we’re still in business is because of farm tourism, because of diverse businesses.”

Even as coronavirus handed the Stanthorpe pair in their 70s another hurdle, they were confident to take it in their stride.

“Every goddamn time something is thrown at us, we renovate the business and make it work in a different way.

“We can no longer do the farmers’ market, which was our main source of income, ­because we are too old for face-to-face contact but our farm-stay is flooded with people.”

Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi said the industry was at the heart of the region’s growth. “Food tourism is so exciting right now and one of the untapped diamonds for our region,” he said.

“The growth in food appreciation is a worldwide phenomenon and we are well placed to capitalise on this. Why would people not come to experience the best quality food and world class wines, and know that it is also the most delicious, safest and contributes to our economy?”

Carolyn Keans with her award-winning Highland cattle.
Carolyn Keans with her award-winning Highland cattle.

Councillor for Agriculture Cynthia McDonald agreed with Cr Pennisi, adding that any expansion to Southern Downs agriculture was welcome.

“Our region’s economy is built on agriculture and it’s the largest employment sector,” she said.

“Our horticulturalists and producers operate progressive businesses, often using robotics, innovative harvesting and cutting edge technology to get the best yield and to ensure the best quality produce and wine is delivered across the nation and the world.

“We want everyone to know that our agricultural sector produces the ‘best of the best’ off the land.”

Leyburn Highland cattle producer Carolyn Keans had started selling stock to a growing B&B market to help her farm survive drought.

She hoped more government agencies could assist a burgeoning sector.

“What I found through the drought was that a property of our size and what we do didn’t fit into anyone’s funding pool,” she said.

“I’d like to see council be more perceptive to smaller farmers doing things like this, to make little business available in the tourism pool and get them off the starting blocks,” she said.”

A Department of Agriculture and Fisheries spokesperson said they would work closely with the region to strengthen ag diversity opportunities.

“There are already some very effective operators working at a regional level and we want to support them,” the spokesperson said.

“Farming businesses wishing to move into tourism and other ventures will receive tailored support and case management to help them with the regulatory, health and safety, and any biosecurity considerations.”



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