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Crookwell region, New South Wales

Restoring land, production and community

For more than 100 years, the Kadwell family has been growing potatoes in the Crookwell region. Farm revegetation has been integral to the success of the business and to the community.

The Crookwell region of New South Wales is prime potato country and in years gone by supported many small holding growers who supplied ware potatoes into the local co-op. In that mix, was seed potato grower, Garry Kadwell and his family.

The Kadwell family have been in the district for more than 100 years, establishing an orchard and a small market garden for the local community and markets. In the early years, Kennebecs, Sequoia and Sebago were the most popular varieties grown. Sebago K, a robust oval potato, was bred by Garry's father.

In the 1970s, Garry could see that as the apple market changed the family orchard would not be viable long term and replaced it with an expansion to potato production.

The Crookwell region is highly fertile, with granite through to basalt, with pockets of volcanic soil, giving a pH of 4.1 – 4.2. Water is plentiful with rainfall in the order of 800-900mm a year. Irrigation of crops is a recent addition for farmers in the district and gives an insurance policy to ensure that crops yield well to compete in a tougher market. Typical of volcanic soils, sulphur and magnesium can be low, requiring a dressing to ensure the right nutrient balance. The Crookwell district is 1,000m above sea level, so winters give hard frosts and snow, and hot summers.

Over time, those 200 small holding farms have gone, leaving Garry and two other potato growers in the district. Garry's primary focus remains with certified seed potatoes.

The farm now is around 2,100 acres, with around 160-200 acres used for seed potato production, in rotation with his flock of Hampshire Downs sheep, first cross ewes and pasture. Around 40 per cent of the property is remnant and rehabilitated bushland.

"My grandfather had the foresight to plant trees – I have great memories of planting with him when I was a child," says Garry.

"I have continued that practice by expanding the amount of bushland we have which puts us in a unique situation where we are isolated from other growers in the area, providing a quarantine zone which is perfect for seed potatoes."

Each year as part of the seed potato certification process, Garry tests for viruses such as PCN and comes up clean, giving high quality seed potatoes for other growers who supply the fresh and processor markets. Varieties include FL and Atlantic for crisping as well as Maranca.

Seed potato production represents about 90 per cent of the potato production, while ware potatoes account for about 10 per cent.

Garry has also begun the move across to more niche varieties for the hospitality market with Kipfler, Pink Fir Apple and Red Rouge, to give consumers an appreciation of what a potato truly tastes like. Gary readily admits that producing niche varieties does have additional complexities but says that his approach is to farm and harvest more slowly to protect the potato.

In his first year producing niche varieties, Garry took out the delicious Harvey Norman award for Producer of the Year in 2020. He says it has given the humble spud pride of place on consumers' plates.

The native bushland has provided many additional benefits for the farm including an increase in beneficial insects, reducing the need for insecticides. The bush blocks used for grazing, appeared to be healthy, but on closer inspection, the bush diversity was not as good as it could be. By fencing off those areas, the diversity balance has improved significantly.

The most recent rehabilitation of the property has been the development of a wetland in a natural valley. A chain of ponds in what was once an eroded gorge, now provides habitat for flora and fauna, some of which is listed as endangered. The flow on effect has been greater soil moisture retention. In five short years, Garry has seen a marked improvement in the overall health of the farm.


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