After battle to stay afloat, Kay now rides a new wave

After two decades staying afloat in business, Beaudesert dairy producer Kay Tommerup is poised to make her biggest splash.

Feb 25, 2020, updated Feb 25, 2020
Queensland dairy farmer Kay Tommerup at her dairy farm in Kerry, near Beaudesert. (Photo: RNA)

Queensland dairy farmer Kay Tommerup at her dairy farm in Kerry, near Beaudesert. (Photo: RNA)

Twenty years after fighting to keep afloat amid falling milk prices, southeast Queensland dairy producer Kay Tommerup is one month away from knowing if she can take her campaign to the next level of national recognition.

Farming south of Beaudesert in the Kerry Valley, Tommerup has been named as one of four Queensland women vying for the national Rural Women’s Award, staged by national rural development body Agrifutures.

At stake is a $10,000 bursary from major sponsor Westpac, and networking and professional development opportunities to assist the winner in implementing a project of their choice.

Announced by Agriculture Minister Mark Furner, the finalists include:

  • Kerrie Sagnol, Yeppoon, who wants to develop an online course for people to better understand soil.
  • Samantha Meurant, Cunnamulla, who wants to further develop a nationwide online directory, pointing people in the direction of purchasing and hiring from all rural, regional and remote businesses.
  • Elisha Parker, Clermont, who has ambitions to expand her online Cattlesales marketing platform.

Tommerup’s vision is to continue reconnecting consumers to the origin of their food in a bid to help farmers receive a fair price for their produce and to underpin rural economies with sustainable farming operations.

Devastated by the dairy industry’s move to deregulation in 2000, which saw their milk price slashed by more than 50 per cent, and the $1 a litre supermarket price war in 2011, Tommerup and her husband David had no choice but to diversify their business in the face of reduced income from dairying.

“Deregulation was a massive shock. It took our operation that supported two families to just supporting one,” Tommerup said.

“We were only getting to a point where we had some idea how to make our business work in a deregulated market when the $1 a litre milk price came in and changed the game again.

“The last 20 years has been a battle against someone else’s idea of what our future should be.”

Instead of shutting the gates and walking away from the 80-hectare property their family has farmed since 1874, the Tommerups embarked on a new future, adding products and services well outside the scope of a traditional dairy enterprise.

Today their business includes farm-stay accommodation, function facilities, farmers’ markets and farm tours for school groups.

While continuing to supply processor Norco from their modest dairy of 24 Jersey cows, the Tommerups also employ their own on-farm creamery to make premium butter and cream products sold exclusively through their farm to the public and restaurant trade.

Milk by-products from the creamery are used to feed pigs, marketed as free-range milk-fed heritage pork, while surplus calves to the dairy operation are grown out on grass and turned off at 6-9 months to supply the veal market.

Tommerup said deregulation and supermarket discounting had taken their toll, but severe drought over successive years had been the ultimate test.

“For us to still be here after such a shocking drought, shows me that a diversified business like the one we’ve put together over the last 10 years, can help you survive the toughest of times,” she said.

The annual AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award is open to all women working in agribusiness and rural and regional communities and aims to provide a platform to support and inspire the next generation of female leaders in agriculture.

The Queensland winner will be announced in Brisbane on March 25.

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