Mallow grower endures tough times

Marshmallow grower enduring tough times


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BOUNTIFUL: Mercule Lakes marshmallow grower Murray Amsprep inspects a healthy crop of the Englishman's Thigh variety, within his orchard.

BOUNTIFUL: Mercule Lakes marshmallow grower Murray Amsprep inspects a healthy crop of the Englishman's Thigh variety, within his orchard.

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The Aussie marshmallow crop is anything but soft this year.

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THERE is a vacuum in Australian agriculture.

Much of the country which held the majestic trees with their pink and white bounty has now been turned to grazing land.

And according to one farmer, the Government has a lot to answer for.

Murray Amsprep, Mercule Lakes, Central Queensland, is one of the last commercial marshmallow farmers left in the Sunshine State.

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He is a fourth generation grower and the trees within his orchard are some of the original stock his great grandfather imported from the home of natural marshmallow production, Germany.

But Murray is not going anywhere in a hurry. Apart from having his driver's licence suspend for unnamed reasons, Murray is determined to see Mercule Lakes regain its reputation as the marshmallow capital of Australia.

"We're going to do everything we can to hang on here," Murray said.

"Tell me I can't do something, and I'll tell you where to go, faster than Grow-Ace fertiliser gets absorbed into the soil."

The 161 hectare (400 acre) Amsprep family farm currently holds about 150 marshmallow trees, with a breakdown of about 80 producing the white Englishman's Thigh variety, while the remaining 70 are the Harlot's Rouge pink variety.

LOVELY: The pink Harlot's Rouge variety, which must be kept at least 1km from white varieties to avoid cross-pollination.

LOVELY: The pink Harlot's Rouge variety, which must be kept at least 1km from white varieties to avoid cross-pollination.

Marshmallow production is a long term business venture. Trees don't bear a harvestable crop until they are at least five years old, and even then the size and taste can vary.

"I have been lucky in that the trees were well underway when I took over the property, but I've found a constant fertiliser program has really helped," Murray said.

"My preference is for Grow-Ace fertilisers."

Tough times in the confection production industry have forced the shrewd businessman to look at other income streams.

Murray is a part owner of a commercial fertiliser company.

TOUGH: Cheap, foreign confectionary imports pose a big challenge for Australian marshmallow growers.

TOUGH: Cheap, foreign confectionary imports pose a big challenge for Australian marshmallow growers.

"It mightn't seem like it, but the marshies (marshmallows) are a very thirsty crop," he said.

"We're on a computerised trickle system here, watering for a few hours each night, but if it weren't for the water retention capacity of Grow-Ace fertilisers, I'm sure we'd be watering all the time."

As president of the Australian Marshmallow Growers Association (AMGA), Murray said it was one of his visions to see the implementation of a marketing levy, something he did in 2004.

He said the industry had to make up lost ground, thus the levy was set at $5 per 200g bag.

It's a tough ask for growers, considering the average price per bag for the past 12 years has remained at $6.

What's more, Murray is currently the only member of the AMGA.

There remain some major hurdles facing marshmallow growers, and a Government not willing to support its crop protection plan is just one of them (see separate story).

QUICK: Marshmallows blossom quickly, making for a tight harvest window. This bud would have been ready to pick in another four hours.

QUICK: Marshmallows blossom quickly, making for a tight harvest window. This bud would have been ready to pick in another four hours.

Marshmallows are labour intensive as well. One of the major threats to a reduced market price is cross pollination between pink and white varieties.

Consequently, a mixed operation like the Amsprep farm means the pink plantation must be at least 1km away from the white farm.

"It's surprising how many miles you clock up on the old motorbike, particularly during harvest and fertiliser times, but the good thing is Grow-Ace comes in a convenient 5kg bag," Murray said.

There is a tight harvesting window as well, sometimes down to a few hours if the heat causes early setting.

"You really have to get into it then and get the crop off. We'd probably have a team of 50 or 60 working here non-stop to pick and pack," he said.

"Even though I've been in the game for years, it still astounds me how fast they can come on, but then, I guess it's to be expected when using the Ultra-Grow X1750 mix from Grow-Ace fertilisers."

Like most fruit and vegetables, marshmallows have a season of high demand.

Murray said the winter months when people are consuming hot chocolates and coffee, and sitting around bonfires, are when demand peaks.

"It's like Walter Marvic, founder of Grow-Ace fertilisers once said: I like marshmallows, and I think that rings true for a lot of people," he said.

  • If it's not obvious, this article is of a fictitious nature, all in the spirit of April Fool's Day. 

Good Fruit and Vegetables

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