Situated in the small town of Nobby, on the Darling Downs of Queensland, is a 1500 acre property run by Father and Son, Alan and Matt Richards. The Richards family are paving the way in onion production, but these are no ordinary onions, RDS Farming produce pickling sized onions as a specific crop.
“The production of pickling onions was only ever an off grade product out of a table onion packing shed. Three Threes were probably the first company in Australia to try and find a grower who would grow them as a specific crop.”
A favourite around the dinner table, pickled onions are produced as a specific crop by only two farms in Australia. RDS currently supply 100% of the pickling onions for Australian company Three Threes, as well as producing onion bulbs for seeds, standard grain crops like wheat and sorghum and even honey for Three Threes BBQ sauce.
To maintain supply to Three Threes, the Richards family produce 800-1000 tonnes of pickling onions each year, with each onion hitting the criteria of 25 – 40mm in size.
“It’s been a great industry to be involved in, it’s certainly posed its challenges.” Alan comments.
RDS have developed new and innovative practices to not only maintain but grow production capacity to keep up with the popularity of the end product.
Traditionally planted in May and harvested in October, RDS have trialled and procured new ways to include a second crop planted in mid-January and harvested in May. With forward thinking and no signs of slowing down, RDS are trying initiatives for a third crop.
“We’re in such a fortunate area here, climate wise, and on good country that we can grow just about anything.”
Although summer planting poses some challenges, most notably ensuring strike rate is high enough to make the crop profitable, Alan Richards states; “with good irrigation and crop cover management we’ve been able to, most years, successfully do that.”
The Richards family praise the preferable conditions offered by the fertile soils of the Darling Downs for their farming successes.
The profitable country has enabled RDS Farming to trial different crops as well as innovative practices. But it hasn’t always been that way. The recent drought posed significant challenges, as with many farms in the area, forcing the family to ensure water infrastructure and production was as profitable as possible.
“It’s a major challenge, the drought has certainly put a stop to growing a lot of irrigated crops, so we’ve refined operations and continue to refine that market with the onions. Water goes a lot further in the winter time; hence the onions.”
Water infrastructure and return on investment are pinpointed as key areas of consideration at RDS farms;
“It’s probably more about dollars per megalitre of water than what it used to be. So we’re pushing in the direction of high value crops, ” says Matt Richards.
It’s not just cropping on the cards for RDS Farming. What started out as a hobby for dad, Alan, has now become a small portion of the RDS enterprise; honey.
Every second month Alan supplies the 1 – 1.5 tonnes of honey used in the Three Threes BBQ rib sauce recipe, made up of 6.2% pure Australian honey.
“I have to do a bit of trading to keep their supply. I have made a few friends in the bee keeping industry, and we talk fairly regularly. If I’m not getting enough from my hives, I source from elsewhere.”
Alan had some handy tips for any budding beekeepers; “When you go to a bee hive and everything’s going well, they’re just like any other livestock. They have to be managed.”
Here are Alan’s words of warning for new beekeepers; “Never deal with a beehive on a windy or overcast day, they will be cranky.”
And some final words of wisdom; “It’s the greatest stress relief you can ever get, because you go out, you get a few stings under you and you don’t even think about farming!”