SEA OF GREEN: Paul Stringer with his crop of coriander.
SEA OF GREEN: Paul Stringer with his crop of coriander. Vanessa Jarrett

Never ending cycle of herbs

THE work never ends at Paul Stringer's property.

There is always a herb to be planted, harvested or just looked after in general.

This week, Paul and his workers are harvesting his corainder and parsley crops.

Between six growers in the region, 700 tonnes of corainder will be sent to their processor, Gourmet Garden where some of it will eventually end up in the Woolworths supermarkets.

"We are nearly finished the coriander,” Paul said. "We will have 130 tonnes of coriander and around 80 tonne of parsley.

"We fill three semi loads of product a day.”

Next on the harvesting list is basil.

Coriander being harvested on Paul Stringer's property.
Coriander being harvested on Paul Stringer's property. Vanessa Jarrett

"We will start harvesting that in the last week of October,” Paul said.

Paul has been involved with Gourmet Garden for 20 years, growing a wide variety of herbs.

"1977 was our first trial production,” he said. "We grow coriander, parsley and basil and a smaller amount of lemongrass, mint, oregano and thyme.”

The herbs are used in Gourmet Garden products, in their dried herbs and tubes.

This benefits Paul as he can grow his produce to the highest quality possible most of the time.

"We sell it when it is growing the best,” he said. "We aren't trying to grow it out of season.

"It makes better product.”

Gourmet Garden not only sells to major national supermarket chains but internationally as well.

"The products are sold in 15 countries,” Paul said.

"There are still a lot of people locally who are shocked when they find out it is grown here.

"It's good to see it in stores and, when you travel overseas, you can see it as well.”

When Paul isn't busy with the herbs, he also grows organic lucerne and hay.

But the main thing his produce has in common is that they are all organic.

"It's a good thing, it is a niche,” Paul said.

Nine years ago, Paul's 125 hectare property was accredited as certified organic.

"It took three years to get to that point,” he said.

"We were going chemical free before but we just had to change a lot of regimes.

"And we had to do it to keep our market share as our processor was going down that road.”

Over the last 20 years Paul said he had seen the organic industry grow from strength to strength.

"I think so, people are a lot more conscientious about what they are eating,” he said.

Looking back to when he first started, the industry wasn't as big and the equipment to produce the goods wasn't available.

"We were the first real commercial business, we didn't hand pick our herbs, we machine harvested,” Paul said.

"We had to design and build all the machinery we use.”

With the six growers around Biloela and Thangool, the area makes for good herb growing.

"Just the climate, not too much, beautiful alluvial soil,” Paul said.

Like any farmer, the weather plays a key factor in the business.

"We have been flooded six times since 2010 and we have been lucky enough to be in the middle of production,” Paul said.

"We have lost top soil but not a lot of produce.”

And like any business venture, it has come with its ups and downs.

"Where to start?” Paul said. "It has been a total learning curve from the beginning.”

Before Paul got involved with herb growing, he was in the horticulture industry.

"We were into horticulture, growing watermelons and table grapes before herbs,” Paul said.

The two products have major differences when it comes to growing them.

"It is different, it is a horticulture crop, a lot different management,” Paul said.

"It is more intense, critical water and nutrition management.

"It has been a lot of trial and error.”

In the future, Paul said they would expand the business to the processors and consumer demand while looking at improving and implementing new technologies.

"We are looking at steam technology,” he said.

"To be used for weed control instead of having to hand pick weeds.”

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